Sunday, March 13, 2011


I posted my last entry to the web at about the time a massive earthquake was shaking eastern Japan. A friend of mine who lives in Tokyo and I had been exchanging messages about plans for the upcoming three day weekend (I was trying to convince him to visit beautiful nature-filled Hyogo), and he added as a little addendum to one "Big ass earthquake just now btw" at 3:05 pm (my time). I hadn't felt anything and almost didn't give it much thought.

A little while later, I messaged a few friends in Yamasaki, to ask if they'd felt anything. My fear actually jumped to my apartment, because sometimes it's snowin' in Ichi and springlike in Yama. I hadn't cut off the gas supply to the water heater or anything and I wanted to make sure stuff wasn't going down at home.

I live in West Japan. The Kansai region was largely undisturbed, from what I heard.
But nobody had felt anything. I looked it up on google news, finding one article about a megaquake shaking Tokyo. But we were too far to feel that, and about halfway between the north and south coasts. Someone said the TV was on at their school, and not too long after, commotion started in mine. We turned on the TV.

It took a moment to realize what we were seeing. It was apparently a live helicopter feed. A corner figure of Japan flashed giant red patches over sections of the map. The teacher behind me said, "What is that, a river?" Not a river, the ocean, come too far in, and far too fast.

The aerial we were seeing happened at that point to be Sendai. Relentless water pushed fire and debris and boats and houses, sweeping across rice fields. I kept thinking something would stop the motion, slow the movement of the sweep, there, a river, when the water hits the river, it'll just go downriver and be a big river. But the tsunami that pushed houses into rivers pushed them right back out of those rivers the next second. It didn't stop, and didn't seem to slow down.

Teachers started texting family and friends, calling them on cell phones and asking in low serious voices if everything was alright. I guess it was.

All of this was right about my bus time, so I haplessly shoved my stuff into my bags and headed down to the bus stop, wondering what it all meant. I texted my Tokyo friend, and resisted texting my Okinawa acquaintance as I figured she'd be swamped with "Are you OK?" messages, since Okinawa was flashing all red (along with Hokkaido, and basically the entire eastern coast, and most southern coasts other than those protected, like us, by other large islands and peninsulae).

This is for the 12th, but it's the type of map we were seeing.

Then... we carried on as usual. We'd just had graduation, and we were worn out from that, everybody cried. I wanted a nap before the dinner/drinking party and got half of one before my co-teacher came to get me and take me to enkai. I wasn't sure how to be, what attitude to assume, whether to be quiet or solemn, but things were progressing as totally normal in my little town, so we ate chicken and soybeans and I got "a little bit whiskey" trying to keep up with the art teacher in drinking (I lost). We all gave speeches about how moving graduation had been, and then the party ended and everyone went home.

Or, rather, I went to karaoke to join the others who had just finished their enkai, and I was so whiskey by then I didn't order a single drink at karaoke. I sang loudly and pretty badly, and fielded worried text messages. We stopped for snacks at Gusto on the way home. Still a bit whiskey, I got online and posted to facebook again, just to let everyone know I really was still in touch, and then I went to bed at 2. Embarrassingly, it was a really fun weekend night.

People asked me to keep them updated, but I had nothing to report. Nothing changed in my town, nothing happened here this time (we had flash floods shortly after my arrival, but that was from a typhoon).

I'd had plans to go to Nara the following day for the Omizutori festival, which you can see a bit more about here and here.

I had no real reason to cancel those plans, especially since it seemed good to go to a religious festival in the very-old capital. The festival was still on, I had bookings at a hostel, and my traveling friend was still up for it. So we went, and it took forever to get to Nara (it just always does), and we hung around and attended the last bit of the fire part of the festival (saw the last torch or two), and then meditated in the hall and hung around until 2, when the sacred water was drawn, made it back to our respective overnight places by 3 (I counted seven pairs of shoes in the genkan, making me the last to return for the night) and went to sleep.

This morning, I got up a bit after 9 and went to have breakfast. There was a free piece of toast per person, along with coffee and tea. I had the odd status of being a lone traveler at this place, and I also talked to the proprietor in Japanese. I didn't really know he knew English until I heard someone else talk to him. It's literally the smallest hostel in Nara, and we were all in the common room, me getting breakfast, the proprietor sitting at the table watching TV, one (English? Australian?) guy doing sudoku at the table, and one guy sitting with headphones and a laptop on the floor by the TV. Another guy was in and out of the sleeping room where the computer also was.

The proprietor asked me about Omizutori and I answered in English. Then I couldn't stop staring at the TV. It's all they are talking about, of course, and showing. The map of Japan was still there and flashing yellow now. It took me a while to realize it meant that those areas were still under tsunami warning, "but just a little one," the hostel guy explained to me when I asked in surprise.

There were interviews with people (some who knew their families were safe, others who did not), pans of the wreckage, before and after shots, aerial footage from all over Japan, charts showing numbers by prefecture of the missing and the dead. It was horrifying. I was transfixed. The guy on the laptop burst out laughing, in his own little world and I wanted to kick him, then felt bad for being in my own little world just like that.

Because much like my readership, I didn't feel it, I only heard about it, I only worried about the people I knew or had met who lived in east Japan. I only saw what they showed on TV (which was unbelievably amazing in a terrible way). Then when I walked by the station, I threw my change into a box held by some high school students who had turned out in droves to chant please and thank you to passers-by. I saw a poster and made a mental note to give blood soon. Because in my mind, that's what it takes when disaster strikes, money and blood, and you give what you can of both. The other thing I hear we are giving is power. Kansai electric has asked people to be super conservative with electricity as we re-route some of our supply to the Tohoku region (the top part). I don't really know if everyone is okay. I don't know that knowing would help me.

On the bus home, I started thinking about what I could do. Part of me wanted to raise my hand and get on a bus (once they start organizing buses, as they likely will) to Tohoku to volunteer to help with cleanup the way high schools in Kobe sent their kids here to help haul away the mud and debris after our floods. Another part of me suggests that that kind of maneuver would not be in line with all the recent injunctions to stay safe.

Can you stay safe just by staying put? Apparently not entirely, not when the earth moves and the sea leaves its bed.

But what I did want to do was make a request to all my friends and family, to anyone who was glad to hear it wasn't Shiso and it wasn't me: please donate $2 to the Japan effort. You can do it any way you like.. I'm sure collections will be happening around you soon, and if not, collect some yourself and send it to me. I think the exchange right now is like 83 yen for a dollar, but I'll round every one to a hundred yen (they have direct deposit bank numbers on NHK, and you can give directly at kiosks in convenience stores). And give blood if you are eligible (this is always a need, but in times of any major disaster, the need increases). Thank you all who thought about me, and trust me, I'm just as glad as you that my evening was about graduation speeches and beer, not mud and broken beams.

I'll keep you updated, such as I can, but once again, what I know just comes from about the same sources as what you know. Stay safe, everyone.


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  2. my heart cries for feels like that Acheh tsunami tragedy all over again...:( hope all is getting better few Malaysian friends there too but they are in Kanazawa..

  3. Thank you! It made me think of the previous tsunami as well, although then I was much farther away.