I live and work in between two fault lines, so when we feel earthquakes, they usually aren’t that bad. We usually don’t even feel them unless we’re sitting or laying down, or we notice something swaying.
On Friday, March 11th last year, I was grabbing a snack on my way to work. Some cashier fainted, collapsed. Another held her in her arms, crying for help. Standing in line, a strange hush fell over the customers as we realized the shelves and ceiling was shaking. More. And more. And suddenly, the room was REALLY shaking.
We all dropped our groceries and rushed to the door en-mass. Nobody wanted to be in the basement of an 8-story department store.
(yurete-iru means “it’s shaking!”)
I stood outside with my co-workers and students as the aftershocks hit one by one. We watched the antennae on top of the surrounding buildings sway. I’m not sure how strong it was exactly near us. It was a 9 in Tohoku, so maybe around a 5 near us?
“Have you ever felt this big an earthquake before?” I asked a teenage student.
“No,” he answered. “I’m worry about tsunami.”
“Uh huh,” I answered. I didn’t get it, though. My image of a tsunami was a big wave a few meters high- something a surfer might ride. I must have seen it in a movie, where a big wave looms over people on a beach, and they run screaming up to higher ground.
Management canceled classes and told us to go home. The trains stop when there’s heavy rains, so absolutely they’d stop with a major earthquake. What I didn’t realize at first was that ALL TRAINS throughout the entire prefecture and region of Tokyo had stopped. Those who felt adventurous walked hours to get home, but I decided to stay overnight in the office and sleep on the couch.
Night fell. I couldn’t really sleep. I noticed my co-worker Bill, who had also decided to stay, watching something on his laptop. I joined him.
Together we watched a tsunami wash away a town.
Then I understood. The water didn’t just swept up over the beach. It picked up cars and carried them down the street. It violently smashed them into houses. Maybe people were in them, both of them. It picked up houses and smashed them into other houses. The waters picked up everything and took it home to sea, to a freezing death.
It looked like the hand of God.
No, I thought. There is no god.
My heart broke. I’ve never been so deeply moved by anything before in my life. The town was gone. Gone. I couldn’t even cry.
This is a little different than the one I actually saw. It’s 6 minutes, but you have to watch this real-time version (not the news-story cut-up highlight) to feel the same emotion I felt.
Somehow I got a few hours of sleep.
The next morning, the trains were running again. I went home. Saturday. No work, obviously. Then we started hearing about the problems at the power plant. It was going to melt down?! Radiation would go everywhere? People are thinking about evacuating? WHAT?! WHAT?! Grocery stores are sold out of stuff.
Daniel Herbertson, my MMA photographer friend, messaged me me on Sunday. “I’m going to visit friends in Nagoya, wanna come?” That was about 2 hours west.
I called my boss and asked for vacation time. Then I called Dan and said, “Where do I meet you?”
I was soon speeding on the Shinkansen to Nagoya, where I had an amazing adventure, meeting new friends, seeing sites, and I trained at “Alive Gym” with Hatsu Hioki and crew. I also visited Osaka, but the whole time, were were checking Twitter, and watching the disaster unfold on TV. We were all depressed and freaking out, and I think I gained 3 lbs through constant eating.
I always kept in contact with my relatives, who naturally did everything in their power to convince me to go back to the US. I assured them that if the plant blew, I’d go south, to Korea, or something.
We didn’t know the real state of things….we knew the government was keeping stuff from us. Turns out they were considering evacuating Tokyo if things got really bad, but in the mean time, tried to tell us that it wasn’t so bad, not so out of control. Only we aren’t FSKING STUPID, so we lost trust in the government and TEPCO. But the employees were doing their best, and good men sacrificed their lives to save us all. No offense, but Japaneses are not good at making major decisions quickly….they have to get everybody and their brother’s approval. But they did a good job in a crisis situation. Are they still pumping water in? I don’t even know.
But after a week, I went back to my home, and back to work.
That was only the beginning….economic decline, businesses destroyed, homes lost, evacuees living in gyms, radiation levels rising, radiation in food, me having to check my produce to make sure it didn’t come from up north, power-saving conservation, rolling black-outs, donation collecting, helping Enson Inoue with donations….
It’s been a whole year. I’m glad I didn’t leave Japan. My adopted home.
It’s been a year. I offer my condolences to those who lost loved ones. The economy is still going to hell. At least the earthquakes aren’t happening every day like they used to. I downloaded an Iphone ap.
Ganbarou, Nihon. …