What does an earthquake feel like?

Living in Japan, I have to expect to feel an earthquake every once in a while.  There was one a couple weeks ago that was close by, but still was just a minor quake.  But today, there was a big one.  Not the big one, like last year.  But this one was in the same area, and it was magnitude 7.3.  Being a few hundred kilometres away from the epicentre, I’m pretty safe.  There was a lot of movement, but nothing earth shattering.

So, what does an earthquake really feel like?  If you’ve never experienced one, it’s hard to imagine the ground moving, and you moving along with it.  It’s a very unusual sensation that isn’t easy to describe.  Some earthquakes give a very sharp jolting shaking, while others are a milder rocking movement.

Today’s earthquake was a long, but soft rocking movement.  There was no sudden shaking.  It started off slowly with a side to side movement, and over time, built up momentum.  It got stronger.  At its peak, I could see anything hanging from the ceiling swinging back and forth vigourously, but I didn’t feel it as strongly.  Imagine standing on a raised platform that’s supported by massive springs and a movement damper.  Without the damper, the movements would be too strong to approximate the feeling of this earthquake.  Now, the side to side movement isn’t a rhythmic movement.  It’s quite random.  You can’t predict how the ground moves during an earthquake.  It’s also not like being on a boat (however, it can be like that in a tall building).  I was on the ground floor of my apartment building when it hit, so I felt the direct movement of the ground.  While the ground is moving, your body feels the movement, yet your brain gets conflicting information from your eyes.  You don’t see the movement, but you feel it.  This causes some people to get motion sickness.  Thankfully, I don’t experience that.  As the earthquake wanes, the movement becomes slower and slower until you can’t perceptibly notice the movement unless you lean against a wall to steady your body. However, toward the end of the earthquake, I could still hear the building creaking.

This description shouldn’t be applied to every earthquake.  I’ve been through some that had much stronger movements, particularly the one on March 11, 2011.  Earthquakes that are nearby have much more intense shaking, while this one didn’t shake, it rocked slowly.  Earthquakes that shake are loud.  This one wasn’t loud, but I could still hear it.

If you haven’t felt an earthquake, can you imagine the feeling now?

14 thoughts on “What does an earthquake feel like?”

  1. It sounds terrifying. How long does the movement last for? Is it just a short minute of so, or does it go on for a long time? It’s terrible news for Japan to have to suffer another major earthquake so soon after the last one.

    1. It depends. Today’s was around a minute or so from what I could feel. Usually, they’re around a minute, but I’ve felt shorter. The one on 3/11 was around 3-5 minutes, depending on where you were.

  2. Wishing you and everyone in Japan the best of fortunes.

    Heads-Up though … this is how the March 11, 2011 earthquake started with several 6.0 – 7.2 foreshocks on March 9, 2011.

    Be safe !

    1. Late reply. I forgot to reply to this. No plans to bug out. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to do that, as I am rooted here with a wife and kid, and they’re from Japan. They’re from the Tokyo area. We have nowhere else to go in Japan. We are planning to move to Canada in 2 1/2 years, but that’s not because of earthquakes, but because of my daughter’s education.

  3. You describe it really well. I was in my apartment in downtown Tokyo for “the big one.” While scary, the aftershocks were the worst. They went on for over 2 months. I was on Dramamine for several weeks to avoid that “seasickness” feeling when I was in my apartment and could feel it rolling slightly.

    1. I got so used to the rocking motion from those aftershocks that they never surprised me anymore. I remember having yakiniku in Gyukaku the night after the earthquake. That was a big aftershock.

      I was only on the 4th floor during the big one, and I was working at the time. I was stuck at work until 9 pm. But you were in your apartment? Which floor?

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