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Long road to recovery: Blake Dawson's Damien Roberts on post-earthquake Japan

Long road to recovery: Blake Dawson's Damien Roberts on post-earthquake Japan

Blake Dawson senior associate Damien Roberts was in the firm's Tokyo office when the devastating earthquake struck earlier this month. He recounts the 'surreal' experience and the country's…

Blake Dawson senior associate Damien Roberts was in the firm's Tokyo office when the devastating earthquake struck earlier this month. He recounts the 'surreal' experience and the country's 'busness as usual' approach as it begins to rebuild.

The Japan earthquake has seen Blake Dawson's Tokyo-based lawyers temporarily relocate to other offices in the area, although they are anticipating their imminent return to the city.
The Great Hanshin earthquake that rocked Kobe in 1995 lasted 15 seconds. The one that struck off the coast of Japan on March 11th shook our Tokyo office for almost five minutes. Even the building control centre got caught out - the first internal broadcast lurched from "Please remain calm, the tremors have stopped......No they haven't, please remain calm!" in the one breath.

For us, that Friday afternoon was the end of a week-long senior-level infrastructure Mission to Japan coordinated by the Australia Japan Business Cooperation Committee. Somewhat congruously, the Mission's main objective was to facilitate Australia and Japan building infrastructure together, and Blake Dawson was co-hosting a PPP workshop designed to familiarise Japanese infrastructure players with the structures commonly used in Australian projects. All eyes in the full room strayed nervously from the contractual structures projected on the screen to the tall structures that were now swaying like trees right outside our window. I have felt many tremors in Japan over the years, but suburbs of swaying buildings was a first for me.

To the credit of both the presenters and the audience, we finished the workshop that afternoon. Once outside, though, it was obvious that a long night was about to begin for many Tokyo residents. All trains had stopped, traffic was already in gridlock, and the crisp afternoon was quickly become a cold night. Comfortable in the knowledge gleaned from intermittent emails that colleagues and friends in Tokyo were safe, I merged into the stream of people who had now also resigned themselves to a long walk home and headed in the direction where I presumed my family would be.

"Clients evacuating from the worst-affected areas, or travelling there to assist colleagues and the recovery effort in general, report of a resilient calm and a renewed sense of community"

Damien Roberts, senior associate, Blake Dawson

The week that followed was surreal. Our plight that evening soon became trivial as the extent of the incomprehensible devastation further north was slowly revealed. The threat of radiation leaks and the contamination that could follow exacerbated concerns that the impact would be broader and longer than originally anticipated. Rolling power blackouts threw commuter regimes into disarray, panicky households cleared supermarket shelves of basic necessities, and television networks dissected the plight of the stricken nuclear reactors from every angle

Under the circumstances, it was recently decided that, like many expats in Tokyo, we would temporarily relocate to other offices in the region. The ability for our Tokyo team to operate all systems remotely, coupled with the generous understanding of our clients, has allowed us to continue to function very much "business as usual". Our tickets are, however, already booked for an imminent quick return.

Clients evacuating from the worst-affected areas, or travelling there to assist colleagues and the recovery effort in general, report of a resilient calm and a renewed sense of community. One client leading a live deal arrived a few minutes late for a meeting in Tokyo last week and apologised for inconveniencing us - making nothing of the fact that he had only just returned from three days in a refuge centre. Another texted me from Sendai: "I'm glad I came here. The strength of spirit of the locals and their noble hearts brought me to tears".

Japan has a long road ahead, but I have no doubt that it will recover strongly.

Related article:

>> March 14: Blake Dawson's Tokyo office evacuated during Japan earthquake

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