Monday, March 12, 2012

The Restless Night

Yesterday marked one year since the earthquake struck Japan.

I still get "phantom shakes", as our group of international students used to call it, from time to time. I feel everything shaking around me, and I huddle down until the moment passes. To make sure it I know it's not a real earthquake, I look at dangling strings or lamps, watching them to see if they would join in the violent swinging my body is feeling. I had another friend who always kept bottles around, and he would watch the water when the shaking seized him to see if it was also disturbed.

About two days beforehand, we had felt an earthquake while at school. Most of us who had come to Japan, were well aware that earthquakes were quite prominent here, so we just shrugged it off. The day of, I was at home reading, laying down on my futon, when the big one hit. At first, I thought, oh, just another earthquake. But my glass sliding doors began to rattle against each other, and my hanging lamp was thrashing about. The noise was tremendous. And worse was the feeling of everything around me shaking out of my control. I can't really describe the feeling well, except to say that it is an experience that makes you feel small and helpless. It's like one of those moments when a person looks into the sky or at the ocean and realizes how insignificant they are in the vast universe. However, instead of feeling wonder, I was feeling terror as I wondered if the earth would decide whether to spare me or bury me under my creaking house.

Up until that point, I only knew how to deal tornadoes, being from Tennessee. I went to the corner of my apartment with less glass that could fall on me and threw the futon over my body. When the shaking slowed and faded, I still stayed under the futon. I wasn't sure what exactly to do.

I started getting a number of texts, all of us asking each other what had happened. Being in the dark, we students that lived in apartments gathered at the kaikan (a shortened name for the international dormitories...although ironically kaikan by itself means "meeting place") with the other international students to figure out what was going on. The Hirosaki University staff reassured us that everything was okay but let us know what had been happening.

We went to the store to grab some ramen and snacks for evening since I wouldn't be able to use my electric rice cooker to make my usual meals. I remember standing in a very long line, waiting for people to start acting rudely or something. It's the kind of things I would expect from my American kinsmen sadly. However, everyone seemed calm and kind. One lady even turned around in line and asked me if I had been scared by the earthquake, much like a mother.

When I went home, a friend came over and stayed. In Hirosaki, there was quite a bit of snow still on the ground, and it was freezing. In the darkness, two more friends emerged looking for somewhere to stay in the cold. I used my gas stove and boiled water just to get some heat into the air, and snuggled under the futon. My friends started receiving news from their families about the earthquake, which seemed grim. We kept feeling aftershocks and though we thought we wouldn't be able to sleep that night, I ended up actually going to bed early. Early in the morning, an aftershock shook the apartment so violently, everyone jumped awake and scrambled to find safe places. Luckily it was over as quickly as it had appeared.

Afterwards so many things happened, and maybe I'll add more later. But that was my experience that evening. And my experience pales in comparison to people who were devastated in Sendai and Fukushima. Nor did I have friends and family to worry about in those regions. All in all, we were really lucky in Hirosaki, and the power was out for little over 24 hours. My strongest memory is still remembering the Hirosaki staff working diligently in the office with the TV on. Every once in a while they would watch the TV intently, only to return to work within a few minutes. That normalcy in routine and their reassurances always astounded me during that experience, and made me want to be a person like that.

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