Yokohama, Japan

A Direct Hit from Super Typhoon Lan Reveals Japan’s Spirit

I made the trip to Yokohama, Japan for Zuken Innovation World (ZIW) 2017 earlier this month, along with a number of my US colleagues and several Zuken customers. ZIW Japan is our company’s flagship event, attracting over 2,000 attendees from around the globe. This year saw record attendance with four tracks covering a wide range of technology topics, a golf outing, and even a Geisha show during the Thursday evening reception. The event was held at the Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu, a beautiful venue overlooking Yokohama Bay.

Time to get the heck out of Dodge!

The Zuken USA contingent was scheduled to stay the weekend and into the following week for meetings with our Japanese colleagues at the Yokohama headquarters. As ZIW wound down Friday evening, our attention turned to weather warnings, and Super Typhoon Lan – a Category 4 storm that was on track to bullseye the Tokyo / Yokohama metropolitan area early Monday morning. As customers rebooked flights to beat the storm out of Dodge, Team Zuken hunkered down.

I’ll admit to asking more than one of my Japanese colleagues if we would be safe. The typical answer went something like, “Your hotel is safe. Commute might be slow Monday morning.”  This was comforting but not entirely comforting – Lan was, after all, even more powerful than Hurricane Harvey which had exacted such a terrible toll in Texas and Louisiana only eight weeks earlier. Why the casual attitude?

Storm reporter in training

The storm made landfall around 3:00 AM Monday at Omaezaki – about 80 miles southwest of Yokohama, packing winds over 100 mph and extremely heavy rainfall causing flooding, landslides, and general calamity. Tragically, seven people lost their lives. The fast-moving storm roared up the coast and hit Yokohama about two hours later.

I’m an early riser and watched through the heavy, double-paned glass of my hotel room window as Lan blew through town. It didn’t take long to understand why the locals weren’t worried – Japanese cities are seriously built to take it. Buildings swayed, trees undulated, and solid rain flew sideways, but from my vantage point there seemed to be little effect from the intensity of the storm. The streets never flooded due to the advanced drainage systems under the city. It now made sense why you always step up before descending into a Japanese subway. The buildings themselves are engineered to flex; not only to withstand typhoons, but earthquakes as well. The combination of intricate engineering and bulletproof construction turned what could have been a catastrophe into little more than an inconvenience in downtown Yokohama.

As the storm began to dissipate there was a break in the rain and I cautiously ventured outside. The wind still howled but the city was otherwise silent. I took the opportunity to try my hand at storm reporting then beat a hasty retreat back inside to the security of the hotel.

On the bright side

What I witnessed that day was a combination of preparedness and stoicism. No sooner had the typhoon moved on than the cleanup crews came out in full force. The morning commute went off without a hitch.

Contemplating the crystal blue sky a few hours later, Jinya Katsube, Zuken’s long-time worldwide COO summed it up this way: “Typhoon cleans everything out.”  This island nation, no stranger to adversity and natural disasters, finds a way to look at the bright side and then soldiers on.

Written by

Kent McLeroth is President and CEO of Zuken USA.

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