Iron Maiden, and my personal experience in nuclear disaster

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@GillianCrafts, btw!) know that last night my husband and I went to see Iron Maiden perform in Toronto. I know it’s not remotely sewing-related, but forgive me if I blather on about it for a bit!

Maiden shirts

Here’s the thing: Jamie and I had tickets to go see Iron Maiden in March in Tokyo last year, and man, we were pumped. So pumped that when the earthquakes hit two days before the concert, we were actually disappointed the concert was cancelled. Because, you see, in the first 24 hours after the quakes, there was no word of nuclear disaster. None. Sure, there were 30+ quakes a day, but we figured that if our building had lasted through the big ones, we’d be ok. We had a friend staying with us, and we put him on the bus and sent him merrily off to his regularly scheduled flight. I remember saying that first night that the less-than-10 deaths reported on the news showed the difference between the impact of disaster on a well-prepared country like Japan instead of a poorer nation like Haiti. What did I know?

But maybe I should go back a bit farther. When the first quake struck, I was leading an assembly of the 120 elementary students at my school north of Tokyo. It was, without a doubt, the scariest thing in my life. The only thought I remember is, “Wow. I didn’t know wooden floors could roll in waves so big and not break!” None of us knew what to do (Can you believe that we’d had fire drills, but never an earthquake drill? Thank goodness we elementary teachers were all together when it hit – the high school teachers like my husband were all by themselves with students in the classrooms.)

We evacuated and sat in a windy, cold field with the kids huddling under emergency blankets. I was one of the lucky few who a) knew my family was ok, because Jamie was with me, and everyone else was in Canada, and b) had my cell phone on me so that I could tweet out that we were safe before the service cut. No one knew what had happened, or where… we heard it was in the south, then the north. A Level 7, an 8, or a 9? Army helicopters swarmed overhead, leaving the nearby airbase on rescue missions… I remember one of my students crying about whether her dog would be safe. We waited.

After a few hours, we went back inside, and set up camp for the night in the gym. Almost all of our students and teachers travelled to school long distances on the train, and the trains were all out. About 250 kids were left waiting in the gym for parents to arrive… by midnight, I guess there were about 100 left who slept overnight. Surreally, the grocery stores were open, so teachers “popped down to the shops” to buy instant noodles. We were in a brand-new building that mitigated most of the aftershocks, but every once in a while all the cell phone alarms would light up and ring in the dark, and the teachers would all sprint from the staff room to watch the sleeping kids in case it was another big one… then wait in the silence, and return to our coffees when nothing happened. Some teachers left in the middle of the night to walk 5 or 6 hours home. Luckily our apartment was nearby!

Which takes us back to Iron Maiden, sort of. They landed before the quake on Friday, but cancelled they concert on Saturday. By Sunday, more information was starting to come in: something was wrong at Fukushima. People in Tokyo were beginning to stockpile supplies and groceries, and pretty soon power-saving blackouts began to rotate through the city. Classes were cancelled on Monday, but teachers had to go to school. Tuesday, the same, but with increasing panic. Embassies were telling their nationals to get out, but our school wouldn’t release us to leave. We had march break coming up, which marks the end and beginning of a new school year, so we all spent the time exchanging hearsay information and prepping for a new term. Bizarre.

Finally, Tuesday afternoon, we got the go-ahead to leave, and promptly paniced to buy any remaining tickets out. Thank heavens for credit cards – on top of the $6000 I spent to get three of us out of there, we took a $500 taxi to the airport because petrol was running short and buses and trains were still cancelled. We got to the airport 9 hours early for our flight, and found hundreds of expats camping out waiting for flights. Until the plane landed in Canada, I really wasn’t sure we’d get out.

The long and the short of it is, we spent 2 weeks in Canada trying to decide if we would return or not. We lived about 200km from Fukushima, but the radioactive dust continues to plume over Tokyo when ever the wind shifts west. Was it worth it? We finally decided that we couldn’t loose the salary and job reference, and we couldn’t abandon our Japanese friends and students. Back we went, and worked out the 4 months until the end of our contract. We continued having quakes daily at first, then slowly less often.

It has, quite honestly, taken until now for me to be able to talk or think about this without crying. I still freak out sometimes when the couch or bed tremors when someone beside me shifts. Of course, I got off lightly – my friends, family and Japanese apartment were physically fine, and not everyone was so lucky. It’s the mental stress that I’m afraid will haunt the whole nation, and us, for years to come.

My husband and I talk a lot about “taking things back”: Reclaiming places or experiences that have been associated with negative feelings and creating positive new memories. Last night, we took Maiden back – and damn, was it a good concert!

It started off with – what else? – Japanese food and some Sapporo beer.

Maiden Jamie

And some vastly overpriced Canadian beer…

Maiden beer

…and a hilarious opening show from Alice Cooper! (Seriously, he had a different costume and gimmick for EVERY SONG! Now it’s pyrotechnics! Now it’s a snake! Now it’s the guillotine! Spider costume! Fake sword fight! Non-stop cheese, but entertaining!

Maiden Alice cooper

We had great seats, surrounded by a sold-out venue of 15 000 people!

Maiden crowd

And why? Because Maiden are incredible live! I’m only a junior metalhead, following in Jamie’s lead, but damn, Iron Maiden are amazing. I’m a sucker for the soaring operatic vocals, and how much fun they have on stage. They might be 50+, but they are still creating great music in their genre and performing at the top of their game. See?


Ok, totally not my picture! It’s from here, but it’s from this tour.)

Here’s a video clip of what Maiden are like in concert: It’s from a Canadian documentary about their tour when Bruce, the lead singer, flew a jumbo jet loaded with crew and gear around the world, including stops in places like India and Columbia where big bands never tour. Great documentary, great band!

And here’s the URL if the video doesn’t work!

It was, in the end, a perfect concert, and a perfect way to put past memories to rest. Oddly though, we did see someone wearing a tee from the cancelled Japan show: What’s with that? Not cool, dude.

Maiden Japan shirt

Oh, remember when I said it wasn’t craft related? Back at the beginning of this, the longest post EVER? Well, I lied, a little. I spent most of one of the encore songs wondering how to go about making a vest for Jamie like Bruce’s. Here’s a pic: What do you think?

This one is actually from an older tour… but he was wearing something similar. They both lace up the side… I love the optical illusion and the armour-like quality of it! (Also, while we are here, how awesome are his leather feather trousers? METAAAAAAL!!!)


That was a lot of backstory and a lot of blurry concert pictures, but it was cathartic for me to share it.

Thank you for listening!

Edited: Please don’t think that we were particularly brave or special… I just wanted to share one of the myriad of different perspectives on the events in Japan! A whole nation is still living with the fallout, physically, emotionally, and financially. This is just one teeny part of that!

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