Shaking it Up

4 Aug

The biggest question I seem to be getting lately is simply: what’s life like in Japan? More specifically, I’m getting questions such as: what’s different? What’s the same? How’s the food? The weather? And what about those earthquakes (plural, at this point)?

In general, it’s kind of hard to answer those questions. Not for lack of information, but because I’m simply being bombarded with so much all the time. I’m here for such a short time and it seems that I’m cramming everything I can into every waking second (and some things while I’m asleep, but I’ll explain that in a minute). For today, I’d like to answer the most predominant question in wake of my earthquake statuses on Facebook: how are you dealing with the earthquakes?

First off, let it be known that my hometown in Indiana does not get earthquakes. Tornadoes, blizzards, and occasionally ice storms that send the whole town into a panic, yes- but never earthquakes. In the wake of the disaster at Sendai on March 11th, I have to say that I was a little bit nervous about the state of the tectonic activity in Japan, and my family was even more so concerned. Nonetheless, I arrived on July 22nd, prepared as well as I could be for something I had never experienced. I had read my guidebook’s advice on such things, read countless articles about safety online, and thumbed through a pamphlet on the plane. I was seemingly set.  I knew exactly what to do!

And then on Tuesday at four o’clock in the morning, I was woken up by the most alarming and peculiar of situations: My bed was moving! Half asleep, I struggled to come up with an explanation.  Had my trip to Japan been a wonderful dream and was I instead asleep on the boat we used to camp on in my childhood? Were my friends playing a practical joke on me? By the time I had turned on the lamp beside my bed and fumbled for my glasses, I had woken up enough to think clearly enough to realize what was happening.  It was an earthquake!

Oh no! What should I do? Was I safe in bed? The flashlight was all the way across the room- should I go for it? Better yet, should I stay in bed or dive under the desk? Was this as severe an earthquake as to warrant propping open the door or diving for the emergency exits?! What would Shannon (our program director) do?!

By the time I had gotten awake enough to panic, the shaking had stopped. I deflated instantly and had a good chuckle at my sorry state. I was half out of bed and slightly dizzy with motion sickness from all the shaking and the slightly breathless with alarm.  I must have looked absolutely ridiculous, especially considering it was such a minor quake that a couple of my classmates slept through it. Thank goodness I didn’t run screaming for the stairs!

I tried not to feel bad about freezing and forgetting all my preparations. After all, hadn’t the same thing happened when I faced down my first severe storm and tornado? Hadn’t I panicked then, too? It goes to show, I guess, that no matter what preparations you make, sometimes it’s just not enough. You need concrete experience to know what to expect. Just like back home, where experience had taught me when it was advisable to seek shelter and when it was just a normal storm, I had to experience this earthquake, too, to be properly prepared for next time.  Which, of course, happened the next night, although not as badly, and I was much calmer.

For those like me who want to come to Japan, don’t let the earthquakes dissuade you. They’re just like any other type of “different” natural occurrence you have in your hometown, be they tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, or something else entirely. Be prepared for them, as Japan is one of the most tectonically active places on the planet.  But don’t feel bad if you freeze up. It happens to everybody, and if you regard it as a learning experience, it actually isn’t all that bad!

However, coming from a place where the ground does not randomly move, I have to say that the subsequent shakes we’ve had are still a little strange, but not in a bad way: a feeling I’ve been experience a lot on my travels throughout this amazing and beautiful country.

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