Friday, 18 March 2011


Last Thursday I flew to Tokyo for a personal tailoring event at our shop in Marunouchi accompanied by Graham Simpkins, my very capable tailoring manager. We landed at Haneda airport at about 5.30 am on Friday morning and went straight to our hotel for a shower and breakfast, before heading off to the Hackett shop.

It was to be a busy day with many appointments having been arranged. It was all going to plan, with our Japanese customers clearly enjoying the process of having a suit made and deliberating over the finer points of buttons and linings.

At about 3pm, I suddenly felt faint and giddy which I put down to not yet having had lunch when one of the shop staff exclaimed it was an earthquake and quickly pushed me under a table. Everything in the shop began to shake violently and the shop windows vibrated menacingly. The first tremors lasted a few minutes and passed.

We went out onto the street and the tremors started again with lamp posts and trees swaying wildly against dark ominous skies. The feeling at the time was one of being at sea when encountering a sudden swell. Again, it passed and we went back to the shop and it was business as usual.

At the end of the day, we learned that the underground was shut and there were no taxis. Graham and I, with no other option, began the five mile walk back to our hotel along with thousands of Japanese people. What struck me as we trekked back was how calm and quiet everyone appeared to be. No hysteria, no pushing and shoving despite the huge crowds, and surprisingly no honking of horns and as is the Japanese custom still abiding by the rule of waiting patiently for traffic lights to change even though the traffic was pretty much gridlocked. It was eerie and surreal.

Arriving back at the hotel, we found the lobby to be jam packed with commuters unable to get home. The hotel staff were coping admirably, insisting it was their duty to take care of their people.

That night there were further tremors but thankfully after a long day and long walk I slept throughout it all. Saturday was a clear and crisp sunny spring morning. A perfect day for shopping - but the streets were deserted and many of the shops were closed. There was a stillness about the atmosphere.

We began to hear about the terrible devastation in Northern Japan and realised how lucky we had been. Our shop staff, unable to get home, had slept in the shop and were ready without complaint to start work.

On the plane home, I was reading a book called 'The Hare with Amber Eyes', which in a couple of chapters talks about Japan and the Japanese resolve summed up in the phrase "Shikata ga nai", which translated means ‘Nothing can be done about it‘ - with a strong undercurrent of ‘and don’t complain’. It is this spirit that will enable Japan to get through the dreadful disaster that has befallen them. I was going to write a piece about my shopping experience in Tokyo, but quite frankly it all seems trivial in light of the last few days.

If you would like to donate to the Japanese Red Cross, Unicef, Save The Children and other organisations related to the ongoing relief effort, please visit Google's Crisis Response page.

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