National / Media | Japan Pulse

Frustrated travelers at Narita Airport in wake of Typhoon Faxai spark joy on social media

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Choirs full of Swedish children typically don’t break into song at Narita Airport. That’s precisely what happened last Monday night, however, when a youth group called Nova Cantica found itself stranded at the transport hub and decided to pass the time by singing in front of some empty check-in counters.

A video of the impromptu concert recorded by user @ryo_kusu spread quickly on Twitter, with others offering alternate angles. Another performer did something similar to Nova Cantica using a nyckelharpa, but you face a much harder path toward viral attention with an instrument featuring a name that seems more appropriate in a spelling bee.

These were some of the moments shared online during Typhoon Faxai, one of the strongest typhoons on record to hit the Kanto region. Torrential rain and wind heavily damaged areas close to Tokyo, while also resulting in at least three deaths. Netizens in Japan spent plenty of time discussing the typhoon and its aftermath, but social media primarily focused on something people could relate to more easily — how Faxai disrupted transportation across Kanto, offering a “follow as it unfolds” narrative that Twitter often plays host to.

The way Faxai unfolded online followed the same path as a number of natural disasters in the social media age. First came people laying out just how strong the typhoon would be, with myriad colorful graphs underlining its strength (with some tips on how to weather such an event thrown in for good measure). Then the YouTube livestreams devoted to tracking the storm started popping up on the “trending” section of the video site.

Then the typhoon arrived, and uploads shifted to documenting the actual weather. Think of it as a chance to see what a historic downpour and heavy winds might feel like from the comfort of your own apartment, rather than opening up a window and hoping for the best. The most adventurous souls in the greater Tokyo region even went out and used the extreme conditions to create original content, such as one user projecting Iron Maiden concert footage onto a sheet fluttering in the wind.

Save for this bit of heavy metal daring, many of the videos uploaded on social media are what you’d expect to see, as was the multitude of photos showing the damage caused by Faxai. The shots could be attention grabbing — and, in the case of a bunch of solar power panels that fell into water in Chiba and caught fire, kind of unsettling — and also inspired online outlets such as Huffington Post Japan to compile notable accidents.

Yet websites and netizens seemed to especially gravitate to transit chaos in the wake of the typhoon. Maybe the sight of seemingly hundreds upon hundreds of people stuck in a massive line outside of Tsudanuma Station in Chiba Prefecture triggered some crowded-space fears, because sites such as Twitter also overflowed with similar shots from all over the region, even the day after impact. Few topics bring together people online in Japan like complaining about their daily commute, so ratcheting up the situation was bound to connect with people.

Yet nothing matched the drama at Narita after almost all transport to and from the airport stopped, stranding thousands of travelers in the structure overnight. Those Swedish choir kids might have made the best of it — as did a pair of guys who broke out some video games to pass the time — but plenty others documented the situation inside, or went on thread-length rants about the whole affair, which appeared to include little information that would be of help to anyone, let alone confused tourists.

The Narita travel nightmare also offered the chance for non-Japanese visitors to share their experiences. A YouTube video detailed the situation, while plenty of others caught in the mobs took to Twitter to vent about the whole ordeal. But, hey, if you got off a 10-hour flight and walked into what appears to be the entire Fyre Festival contained in one terminal, you’d also be pretty grumpy.

Online outlets such as BuzzFeed Japan, however, appeared to revel in the typhoon, pumping out content about the situation at Narita Airport as it unfolded. Given how many people shared those stories or engaged with other posts about the chaos, it ended up being something compelling and a bit of an escape from all the bad news that came out following Faxai.

It’s unlikely anyone who was stranded in Chiba Prefecture felt particularly good, but at least their ordeal entertained a much broader section of the population.