Maybe it surprises some of you that I haven’t written about the earthquake yet. Others might just assume I’ve fallen back into my time lapse that can consume this blog. The truth is I’ve thought everyday for the last 6 weeks about how to write this. I open the site, I type a title and I just sit staring at the screen. When I started this blog today, I deleted 8 drafts of previous attempts. Please keep in mind this was my personal experience, and that I’m not speaking for anyone else…
Four days before the earthquake hit, I had been in mainland visiting some of my best friends. I had gone to visit Brandon and Jewell Willett and meet their new addition, Ella. I hadn’t seen the baby yet and it was time for a trip. I planned it so it was in the middle of Jesse’s “army vacation” so that way there was no chance of me missing him if he came home early. Well, well. So much for planning. He did in fact come home early and was only going to be home for 5 days before he left again. That put him leaving on May 11th, flying through Tokyo. I was at work and had no idea of what was going on in mainland. A Japanese man, came running in the restaurant saying there had been a huge earthquake in mainland, please turn on the TV. Sign 1 something was horribly wrong – he was panicked. The Japanese do not panic. We got the TV on a Japanese news channel and it was an ungodly sight. It was like a horror movie had come to life. My entire staff was standing around the TV so focused on what was going on, no one thought to turn on the big screen TV for the next 40 minutes. There it was, ESPN playing in the background like nothing had happened.
Suddenly there was yelling on the TV and I was asking my staff what’s going on, what are they saying. They just kept saying tsunami, they say a big tsunami is coming. We were all standing there in shock. We’ve had tsunami warnings a few times since I’ve lived here, and nothing has ever happened. They are frequently issued as a safety precaution after a sizable earthquake. No one knew if it was really going to happen or not. Then came the wave. Watching a natural disaster hit on live television is unreal. The water was black and looked to be moving very slowly. It’s hard to imagine how fast a tsunami really moves until you consider how high in the air a helicopter has to be to be getting the entire thing on film.
My immediate thought was thank god Jesse is off the ground. Their connection had been due to leave before the earthquake hit. I was thinking about his sister and her family who all live in Tokyo and of course Brando, Jewell, and the baby. I tried calling Jesse a few times for reassurance that he was indeed in the air. I was relieved for once when the phone went straight to voicemail. I assumed the phone was off because he was in the air. I was not even considering the possibility that the phone lines were jammed. I ended up getting texts from him saying they had been taxiing out when the first earthquake hit and that they were getting lots of aftershocks. They wouldn’t let them off the plane because Narita Airport was closed so there was no where for them to go. No one on the plane knew the gravity of the situation. Jesse made several comments about, “It’s just another shaker, ” or “Here we go again! Hang on for a ride!” when the aftershocks started hitting. They finally got off the ground 8 hours later and when they arrived in the States, they were greeted with the reality of what they had left behind.
And the aftershocks. To date there have been 1117. My question is when are they no longer aftershocks? When are they their own earthquakes again? I really hope that anyone reading this will go to this link. The video is a map of all of the quakes they’ve had since March 11. It’s truly a great visual of what’s going on in mainland Japan. You see all of these little pings pop up of the earthquakes and you think, wow, those are really big! Until of course you get to the big one. The main earthquake ping literally takes up the whole screen and the amount of dots after that are unbelievable.
“Ganbaro Nippon” can roughly translate to do your best or try your hardest, Japan. And my God do they ever. There has been no looting, no rioting, no anything negative. Turns out in Tokyo, people were so adamant about helping conserve the power, they were going to work early and leaving early so they wouldn’t have to use the lights so much in the evening times. Things seemed to be as calm as they possibly could be. With the exception of batteries and toilet paper, people were finding what they needed.
I don’t pretend to know what it was like to be there that day, or any of the subsequent days either. This was simply my experience with the events on March 11. In Okinawa, we literally felt nothing from the earthquake. We’ve only had one earthquake since all of this began and I believe that most didn’t feel that one either. My friends that I had been visiting in Yokosuka had been planning to visit Okinawa in the fall and decided to move up their little escape a few months to help put their family’s and friend’s minds at ease. It was heartbreaking that while they were trying to take care of their family, they were getting backlash for leaving. “Flyjins” I believe they are all being called, all of the foreigners that left.
It’s amazing how quickly people here stopped watching the news channels like CNN and MSNBC and turned instead to things like Twitter and Facebook. We truly are the social media age. It’s a little concerning to feel the need to call your parents and say, please, tell anyone that’s watching American news channels to please stop. The sensationalizing and the fear based reporting was unreal. Of course it was a dire situation, and frankly, I don’t think it’s getting enough coverage now. I know there are disasters happening all over the world, but if it is possible to not, I don’t think that one can really replace another. Whether 10 people or 20,000 people die in a disaster, it’s still a disaster. They all need help, they all need to heal. What kind of world do we live in if something is forgotten simply because something worse came along?