Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake

*****Update: The news is saying that at least one of the reactors near Fukushima is "melting down." We are quite a ways away from there (200+ miles), with some pretty large mountains in between. We are not worried at the moment (and don't really see any reason to be in the future), but we are regularly checking the news and keeping up with our friends who either are or speak Japanese.


There's not much to report from where we are, fortunately. Basically we're following the news like everyone else. We live inland in mountainous Nagano prefecture and are about 5 hours by train to Sendai, but this is mostly because part of the trip would be on bullet train. Japan isn't a large country but it's long and we are far from the impacted areas.

On Friday afternoon we were both at school and definitely felt the rumblings of the first big earthquake. It was our first jishin (earthquake in Japanese but it also means self-confidence among other things, when different kanji are used).

Josie's account - I was alone, reading in the small English teachers' room. I felt nauseous and noticed the shaking. Honestly it wasn't shaking that badly - we had just earthquake-proofed our building and I was on the first floor. It just felt very wrong and almost like we were on a big ship or something. I went up to the big teachers' room and a few teachers were watching the huge TV screen. Reports were just starting to come in that an earthquake hit Northeast of us. Everyone was pretty non-plussed. We have had numerous earthquake drills while I've been here. Everyone dons their kerchief (literally - puts on their headscarves we use for cleaning time. Supposedly this is to protect them from debris but I think it's so they look like a team. I mean, what a waste of time if you really needed to evacuate.) They file orderly into the gym (in a real earthquake I was told we'd go outside but they don't want to mussy up their clean indoor shoes for a drill). The teachers count the kids and report that all are there. None of this happened on Friday. I guess this is indicative of how prevalent earthquakes are. Some of the teachers made their kids get under their desks. Mostly, however, it was business as usual. The 3rd graders practiced for graduation in the gym. The images on TV changed to showing the massive tsunami. Teachers checked their phone and tried to call family members. They cancelled after school activities. Basically we still didn't understand that this was the BIG one.

John's account: I was correcting papers at my desk in the teachers room when the shaking began. I had this weird dizzy/nauseous feeling and decided to stand up and stretch. Bad idea. I kind of wobbled to the side and looked around the room. Everything was shaking and the 15 or so teachers were holding onto the sides of their desks. Then it hit me: this is an earthquake. I sat down again at my desk and rubbed my temples, trying to get over the woozy feeling. The shaking stopped and about 10 more teachers came into office. Someone turned on the TV and we saw some of the first quake images and the tsunami warnings. The thought that came to me then (and kept coming back to me over the next few hours) was that nobody was panicking or acting crazy; even when there were two or three more mini-tremors and we watched the images of the damage on NHK. Our vice-principle and head teacher made announcements to the students, parents came and brought some students home, and at the end of the school day the students left. No crying, no frantic phone calls, no praying. Just a lot of nervous laughter and some coy chiding of how I had caused the earthquake.

At 8:10 that morning I had stood before the schools staff and given my farewell speech. During lunchtime I said goodbye to the students over the intercom. Around 3:00 pm I was wondering how was I going to get home because the trains had stopped. My principle joked that if I had to stay the night we could close the curtains and dive into the secret sake stash (of course I find out there is a secret sake stash on my last day...). By 5:30 I was in the entranceway of my school with a circle of teachers around me. I was told Hip-hop sensei lived in Suwa (the town next to mine) and was going to give me a ride home. But first my farewell. The vice-principle stepped forward and said in English, "Japanese farewell." He then proceeded to lead the teachers in no less than seven Banzai's (Banzai = stretch your arms towards the sky, bow, then come back up and yell "Banzai!"). After this I got into Hip-hop sensei's Prius and we circled the parking lot while I gave parade waves. The playlist on the way home consisted of Notorious BIG, Lupe Fiasco, KRS-One, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, The Game, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Pete Rock and lots of Nas (Hip-hop sensei's favorite things are Nas, Marlboro Reds, Kobe Bryant, and Air Force 1 shoes ). What a crazy day.

Josie woke up for the 4am 6.2 earthquake that hit in Nagano. The shoji screens were rattling. Soon enough it stopped though and she went back to sleep. John slept right through it. If we had a newer cell phone we would've gotten an alert. Our friends got a text message 30 seconds before that one hit. Friday and Saturday there were a few warnings/messages coming from our town's loudspeaker. They use this to tell us about everything from a town event, a missing grandparent or a natural disaster. It always seems kind of spooky to us (we can picture them saying the Americans are coming during WW2, right?). That's probably more of a factor of us not understanding what they're saying though.

The day after (Saturday here) we did normal errands. The grocery store was as busy as normal but people didn't seem to be buying special supplies or anything.

So, everyone's thoughts and energy should be going to the people near Sendai and Fukushima. As you can see from the footage, it's just devastating up there. Japan is a very prepared, organized and calm country-probably the best place to be if you're going to be in an earthquake. I mean, looting isn't a concern. Their buildings are earthquake proof (though nothing is tsunami proof). However, it's so densely populated that inevitably many many people will be affected. At this point we're all holding our breath about the nuclear reactors.

Factoids:
The quake tilted the Earth's axis 10 cm. Japan's coast moved 8 feet. Plate boundary earthquakes of this magnitude only occur once in 1,000 years. There are about 300 earthquakes in Japan every day. They knew they were due for a big one and were predicting it but they had no idea it would be this big.

Let's hope for a speedy rescue search and clean up and that the nuclear reactor situation is sorted. Also, that the earth settles and we don't have more big earthquakes here in the "ring of fire".

Many people have offered prayers during this difficult time for Japan's people. We suggest directing your energy into donating to the Red Cross or hugging your loved ones and telling them what they mean to you.

Peace.

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