Tokyo’s transport system returned to normal after Japan’s worst earthquake in a century halted subways and commuter lines yesterday, forcing people to walk for hours to their suburban homes or find makeshift beds at their desks, building lobbies or train stations.
Tokyo Metro was running eight of nine lines normally, with limited service on the last. East Japan Railway Co., which operates commuter lines in the nation’s capital, restarted full service on the Chuo line and partial service on the Yamanote line.
The 8.9-magnitude quake yesterday crippled the world’s busiest subway network. More than 8 million passengers use the system on a normal weekday, and the shutdown highlighted the city’s daily dependence on its transportation infrastructure.
The sidewalk that encircles the Imperial Palace was packed with businessmen at 9:30 last night instead of the usual joggers. Walking was still faster than driving as cars in the city’s center stood bumper to bumper, inching along.
The shelves of convenience stores, normally full with ready-to-eat rice balls and sandwiches, were stripped bare by hungry office workers. Once the subways started running, they kept going all night to get people home. At 1 a.m., the Marunouchi line to Shinjuku was so jammed full of people, most travelers couldn’t even grab an overhead strap.
Office buildings distributed mats and blankets for people camping out in the foyers. Other people spread newspapers on the floor to sit on.
Ai Yonezawa had come to Tokyo from Sendai to attend a pop concert and had planned to take an overnight bus home. After the bus was canceled, the 22-year-old made her way to Tokyo station and spent the night in an adjacent office building. There were so many people, she couldn’t get a blanket.
“I was so cold,” said Yonezawa. “I don’t know when I can go home.”
Parents were unable to pick up their children from school. At Seibi Gauken School in northern Tokyo, 219 students and 109 staff spent the night in classrooms.
“We had to stay overnight because of the traffic problem,” said Manami Sato, a teacher at the school.
Narita Airport, the city’s main international gateway, also began operating normally today. Flights stopped landing yesterday, stranding 13,800 passengers at the airport. Flights were diverted including that of Mana Nakazora, who was returning from a business trip in New York.
The quake hit 13 minutes before she was scheduled to land. She was diverted to Nagoya’s Central Japan International Airport, where she spent the night. This morning, she got on a bullet train to Tokyo.
“The train was working already and was punctual,” Nakazora said. “Only Japan can do this.”