The floor swelled and dropped under my feet. Closet doors rattled and swung open as we swayed. The metal skeleton behind the walls of this high-rise Tokyo hotel squealed and strained.
“Welcome to Japan,” Hidetoshi, a workmate from Sendai, joked, before punching the keys on his computer and going quiet. “Tsunami will come,” he said gravely. I packed my things and ran to be with Nina, my partner, in our room a few floors up. She was dripping wet, scared, dragged out of the pool by smiling hotel workers, warned of the earthquake. I was scared. We were quiet together. I wanted to be on the ground, but we were told to stay in our rooms, 49 stories up. I had images of riding shards of the hotel all that way down to the buckling pavement. CNN talked about us, about the major earthquake off the coast of Japan, and we watched. Nina feared a tsunami most.
Time passed. The rumblings lessened and then stopped. We talked about staying in for the night, but we both wanted air, and, most of all, to be around people. People accustomed to this rattling city; people on dates; people delivering mail; people smoking cigarettes on street corners. We wandered the streets, took a few turns by chance and peeked through a tiny window in a sliding door made of heavy wood on a quiet alley. We went in. It was one single room, and dim, a low ceiling. A large party sat at a long table near the back wall, the only table. They were noisy, having fun, surrounded by plates. Plumes of blue cigarette smoke filled the air above them and hung in the darkness.
We climbed a wooden platform to take seats at a low bar, and were welcomed with smiles. Our stomachs were full of butterflies and we wanted only a few beers. The dark of the room, the grain of the wooden bar, were calming. The bottles of Saki that lined the entire wall in front of us were like art. Nina asked which bottle I liked best and we both picked the same one – five from the right on the top shelf.
We drank and breathed. We smelled the food and we ordered some – the simplest thing we could imagine: ‘lightly roasted chicken with avocado.’ The chicken was near raw, pink inside and cooked just gently, seared around the edges. Now we knew what ‘lightly roasted’ meant, and we laughed about it. We ordered more food, coming back to life again. Slices of pork with green chili sauce, salty and oily. More Asahi draft beers came, with a milky head of foam like cream in coffee.
A deep fried squid was chewy in a pleasant way and tasted so perfectly of the sea and salt as you tore through the sinew. Then a sliced beef, red and raw, on a bed of white onions, sliced thin and soaked in garlic sauce. Small chives and oil dotted the plate. I felt good and grateful, and I didn’t even mind much when the big bill came. I was alive. I put my arm around Nina on the walk back to the hotel and squeezed her tight. We will never forget this place, or this night. We will tell this story when we are old and gray. The tsunami never came.