We survived the great Japan earthquake

March 17th, 2011

Last week, my wife Marissa and our youngest daughter Isabella left early for Japan after a tiring Go Negosyo Women Entrep Summit weekend at the World Trade Center.

Annually, the Concepcion clan meets as shareholders to discuss critical issues regarding Concepcion Industries. It’s also a time for family shareholders (parents, uncles, siblings and cousins) to bond. It’s presently our generation’s turn, the 3rd generation, in running the companies. As the family grows, there is a greater risk of family fights, which we are guarding.

This time, I recommended to the family to do it in Tokyo, since the Tokyo Peninsula gave a big discount. About 40 of the Concepcion clan joined, including in-laws and a few kids because of Disneyland. As we boarded the car for the airport, Isabella hugged her sister so hard and cried. I found it quite weird, as she has been travelling with us and she never cries.

We had a successful meeting, with few but strong, which is unusual for the Concepcions who love to disagree or to even agree to disagree. We finished the meeting Thursday so Friday could be a free day. Nineteen of my cousins went to Mount Fuji. Most of the older folks decided to just eat in the restaurants, while others stayed in the hotel. Marissa and I decided to have sukiyaki.

As we gave our orders, the building started to shake. At first, I did not mind, as we had a magnitude 6 earthquake the other day. People in Japan even say that earthquakes are normal and they live with it. But, the rumbling went on. Fearfully, the staff went out. They said to go under the sukiyaki table, which was small so we wouldn’t fit. I was watching if the glass window would break. Fear started to rush in.

Not only was the building swaying, it was bouncing. We all started to pray loud. Our small Isabella was under the table. I kept watching the glass shake, waiting for it to break or the building to collapse. The moment the shaking stopped, I told my wife to run down to the ground floor. The manager, who was quite nervous, helped us. While I was going down, the building was still shaking. When we reached the ground floor, we saw people crying and helping the elderly.

With everything that happened, the Japanese people did not panic. They were quite disciplined, orderly and very quiet. The earthquake lasted close to two minutes, but it felt like eternity. All trains and subway operations were suspended. At least in our part of Tokyo, power never went off.

Many things went through our minds. We were thinking about our cousins who went to Mt. Fuji. Did they make it? As I approached our hotel, I saw my parents. Our other family members inside the hotel came down shaken. Even if the hotel was built for strong earthquakes, guests were still scared.

After 30 minutes, there was a second earthquake. According to sources, it was magnitude 7.8. Helicopters were then all over the place. People were asked to go out and wait in the park. I was taking pictures with my video camera. The electric post continued to sway and you can even see the buildings move. After some time, we were asked to go to the ballroom of the hotel. We saw the video clips of the earthquake. The damage by the tsunami was so big.

Tokyo was virtually unharmed, since most of the buildings were built to take earthquakes. The building where we stayed is one of the oldest. We were so scared because it was 50 years old.

We were concerned about those who went to Mount Fuji. There was no phone signal. For those with international phones, we had internet. Our kids in Manila used Facebook to communicate with us.

My brother John and sister Marie were caught in the subway. They also thought they would not see daylight. Imagine being underneath the ground when an 8.9 magnitude earthquake hits. My sister Michelle, who was with my cousin Ton, was in Disney Sea. They could not get home. My other sister was held in a restaurant with her family like a refugee. They were given some snacks. Ton was finally able to get to a hotel in Disney.

Those in Mt. Fuji started to head back. They were on the road for four hours, which only covered four miles of the total distance they were supposed to travel. They had to take turns in using their phones to be able to keep in touch with us. They were running out of food because of the long travel. They had great bonding, unaware of how bad the damage really was. They arrived 4am the following day after a 12-hour drive.

All 40 plus of us have survived the great Japan earthquake. This was truly a test of faith. It could have ended for some of us in Japan. It was the 5th strongest earthquake in history, since the recording of magnitude started. God and His angels are indeed with us. Each one has his own story to share.

The following day, the whole clan attended mass together at a church in Roppongi. It served as a thanksgiving mass for all of us because no one was harmed. Ambassador Manolo Lopez and his wife, who are good friends of our elders, were also there.

The Japanese people show that in crisis, they remain dignified, disciplined, orderly and helpful. The manager of the restaurant who was with us during the earthquake accompanied us to safety and went back up to get our things. There was also a Good Samaritan who stopped for my cousin and offered him a ride. The Peninsula management also allowed people to take shelter in there lobby and gave food and water.

Will the Philippines be as prepared when a crisis with this magnitude would hit? Will our Filipino brothers and sisters express Christian faith through proper action? This was a close encounter. The death of many in Japan makes us realize the value of our love ones and the importance of family over wealth. We came to Japan and got the best teambuilding experience of a lifetime. It will remind each one of us to stay strong as a family.

For my cousins, titos and titas, specifically the two siblings of my father Joecon (who turns 80) –both Tito Raul (who will also turn 80) and my Tita Mely Hechanova (who turns 80 in her Chinese birthday this December); this experience will truly be the most memorable. It served as a test we all faced. With God’s grace, we will continue the legacy of our parents: to use wealth properly; to not self-destruct as a family; to help those who work for us and the consumers who buy our products; to deliver the best we can in terms of value and service; to continue to love our country and grow our business; and to provide more jobs.