Sunday, March 13, 2011

One Californian's Experience in the Japan Earthquake

I don't think my experience is particularly interesting but this blog offers an easy way to capture it.

I had recently driven home from a park with my daughter and had settled down trying to study Japanese in our sunroom. I was actually reading "Lost Japan" when the earthquake hit. It started slowly and gently and I was just laying on the couch feeling it increase for what felt like a long time but was probably only 30 seconds. I went into the living room where my daughter was when I realized she was naked from the waist down. She had been out playing in the water and had gotten her pants muddy.

Despite being told most of my life in California to go into a small room during an earthquake I grabbed my daughter and went into our small garden. Our house is old and it just didn't feel right to stay inside. We stood outside my kids room and watched the water in the aquarium slosh back and forth and watched our car swap back and forth. It all looked very surreal and like a bad TV movie. It just seemed to go on for such a long time. At one point I almost fell.

After the first quake I ran back inside and turned off the heatpump and got pants and shoes for my daughter, tweeted "Big freaking long earthquake here just now", grabbed my purse and headed up the hill to my son's kindergarten where he was participating in the afterschool "duck club." I speak very little Japanese but I could say "scary" and "big" to the people I passed and they repeated what I said. I started realizing that this was even big by Japanese standards because of the looks on people's faces.

It took me about 7 minutes to get up the hill, so maybe 10 minutes after the first quake. The teachers (almost all young women in their early 20's) had all the kids outside in the small playground of the school building where the 3 year olds have class and where the afterschool program is. I was one of the first mother's to arrive so I just followed the whole group to the large playground of the main school. At this playground, there were all the kids who were playing soccer with the coach, some other kids and their mom's who had hung around after school (school ended at 2:00) and all the teachers. Everyone huddled in the middle of the playground, which seemed very small compared to the two-story school structure next to it. The Principal was organizing the teachers who were going back in to the classrooms to get the kids backpacks when the 1st aftershock hit. This was the scariest moment because you don't know if the first quake was the big one or not. All the adults were scared, many of the kids.

We heard the aftershock before we felt it because of the windows shaking. Everyone seemed pretty trained to duck to the ground (my kids kept trying to go play which was embarrassing and frustrating). I asked my English-speaking friend after the first aftershock how long she planned to stay and she just felt safer there. I texted my husband (in downtown Tokyo) from my friend's phone. I walked home after the 2nd or 3rd aftershock. A vase and a mirror had fallen and broken.

So once home I was able to email my family and my husband and then I just got glued to Twitter because we only have Japanese TV. Twitter even proved to be an early warning system for aftershocks. Looking back at my stream on friday, a bunch of my tweets were just 'shaking again.' Tweeting and retweeting was making me feel productive. A friend who lived up the hill and had no power was worried about us and checked in and brought us some snacks. I though it was super sweet. Others sent emails checking in.

My husband decided to stay at work because his co-workers were. It was later we found out the trains stopped running. He decided to run home at about 8:00 when he realized the trains were not going to run. He bought running shoes and ran 10 miles to the station that is the last station in Tokyo before you get to Kawasaki, Futakatamagawa where he could ride a train to Mizonokuchi where he could ride his bike home. He got home at 11:00 pm. I breathed a sigh of relief. We kept feeling aftershocks all day friday, so frequently that we also were feeling phantom shakes.

Saturday morning we all slept in after a restless night. We had planned to go to Costco and decided we might as well go, we might want to stock up anyway and I had to get away from the grim news in the north. My husband tried to call the store but I can't remember why he couldn't get through. Anyway we drove all the way to Machida to find it was closed. We learned later it was because of a collapse of some kind to the parking structure. We went to a mall and went into a sport store, the atmosphere seemed totally normal. I did notice that people had bought flashlights presumably because of the power outages.

The grocery store we went to to buy snacks did not yet look like people were rushing to buy things which was definitely true by Sunday.

This morning, Sunday, a friend called and said there would be gas shortages so I went and got gas and groceries. There were already shortages of certain items. It didn't look like people were buying tons of stuff but if everybody just bought twice what they normally would, I can see the stores emptying rapidly. What was really odd to me was the fact that the big rice store sold out as did all the big bags of rice at the store. All the water was gone and I got some of the last milk. Unlike on Saturday where we really were operating under a "this won't really affect us" haze, on Sunday the potential impact on our lives, not just all the people in the north.

We took the kids to a wooded area, watched them play in the dirt and drank beers in the sun. We could hear the birds singing and the wind in the bamboo. Another surreal moment actually. It was like we stepped out of the earthquake reality. It was one of those moments you are truly happy to be a family. Every ordinary thing looked a little more beautiful, a little more precious. No really, I'm not trying to be dramatic.

So that is how I have spent the last 56 hours.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Kathleen. Glad your family is safe. The hard part is yet to come, I think, as clean-up and stock-taking begins. Best of luck to you, your neighbors and friends.

    ~Kathleen (@PAranger)