So it’s been three days since the earthquake and the country is reeling, at least that’s all we see on the television. Down here in Saiki in Kyushu, we felt nothing and although there were some tidal fluctuations, life has continued as always. That is to say, we haven’t experienced any inconveniences or significant changes, but there is palpable sense of loss and everyone knows someone who has been affected. It could have happened anywhere, it could have happened here.
On Friday, I was teaching English as usual. I had had a great week, meeting with a friend from Oregon for a couple days. We explored the area in northern Oita- visiting several temples in Yabakei and Innai and also Usa Shrine. The 3:00 class had just begun and a student’s phone went off. She looked at the display briefly and apologized. A couple minutes later it went off again. She looked distressed and said that it was a second message from her husband who was in Tokyo on business. She said that he had texted that there was a lot of shaking- she knew that this was not normal. Everyone pulled out their cellphones and we started checking online. Seismic intensity level 7, magnitude larger than 8. Minutes later the sirens went off in the streets here- a tsunami warning- “Get away from the coast and rivers.” It was difficult to get through to Tokyo on cell phones- panic started to set in. All the students left and I picked up the classroom, posted on facebook that we are fine and then headed home to watch the news.
Students were dismissed from school early and teachers stood at the bridges that cross the river to make sure kids were safely returning home. The loudspeaker information system and roving firetrucks continued to urge extreme caution. 5:10 was the expected arrival time of the tsunami but we were spared. One elderly couple reportedly showed up at their local evacuation center here, the only “evacuees” in Oita.
By dinner, news reports were starting to provide a glimpse into the horror. We went to bed knowing that this was terrible, but I was totally unprepared for the images that appeared on the morning news broadcast. Footage of the tsunami rushing in and out, offices shaking and furniture falling (but seriously, government offices here have way too many bookshelves stacked way too high with way too much paper), collapsed bridges, ships lying on their sides hundreds of meters away from the water, missing train tracks.. studio news announcers in helmets voices rising every so often as aftershocks continued. Every few minutes another chime and newsflash of aftershocks and separate earthquakes in Niigata and Nagano.
Saturday English classes proceeded as normal, students seemed to want to focus on things other than the disaster. Everyone has some connection to Tokyo and everyone knows that this area is susceptible to the same devastation.
Saturday was also Jiro’s birthday-we had planned to go out, but ba-chan’s condition required additional attention and we didn’t finish up with her until 8:00. It also felt a little morbid to go out and celebrate at this time. So we got take-out pizza and watched news…we just couldn’t pull ourselves away. By this time, the news of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima was the most troubling. How could so much happen at once? How is the government going to respond?
Yesterday I made a point of not watching TV, it makes me feel helpless and really there is nothing I can physically do to make a difference now. However there are ways to contribute . I gardened a bit and decided to make a birthday dinner for Jiro- his favorites: subuta (Japanese style sweet and sour pork), vegies and kabocha pudding. Simple and delicious.
After dinner we watched the news again- the focus now was on the people. I was overwhelmed by the sadness and loss. Until then most news had focused on the physical devastation, now it was people telling their stories. People searching for family members, a bruised man telling about being swept away in the tsunami, a mother who hadn’t been able to nurse her baby finally finding water, people huddled around fires, no heat available in some of the evacuation centers, not enough food, nothing left on store shelves, not enough diapers…. why don’t they start dropping relief from the air? We turned off the news again.
The government response has been fairly quick. The Self-Defense troops are there and the relief efforts appear organized, it is difficult to get into those areas because of damage to roads and rail lines. There are regular updates on the news, but apparently the survivors in the areas hardest hit have no access to information. With the nuclear power plant failures, there is almost too much to deal with. The reports of the rescue efforts are grim. Projected loss of life over 10,000, there are over 300,000 people in evacuation centers.
(As I write this an 6.1 earthquake has just been reported in Ibaragi- it’s all overwhelming)
Earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes and typhoons are part of life in Japan, but this earthquake 東北地方太平洋沖地震 Tohoku Chiho Taiheiyo-oki Jishin (The Tohoku Region offshore Pacific Ocean Earthquake) and resulting tsunami are catastrophic and I don’t think anyone could have imagined this kind of devastation. Reports by people who were nearby or in Tokyo instantly knew that this earthquake was different than the regular tremors.
Was this the Tokai earthquake (more info) that has been predicted/forecasted and that everyone has “prepared” for? No, the location is off and although the most affected areas are not large urban areas, the damage and loss of life is worse than the predictions based on an urban occurrence. And the Japanese government until now has expressed confidence that its nuclear facilities would withstand any earthquake or tsunami… maybe now there will be a reversal in the nuclear energy policy (Japan site in English)- currently 55 nuclear power plants in operation (now 52 because of the shutdowns) and plans for 14 more, will be reevaluated.
Today we woke to news of another eruption from Shinmoedake– a volcano south of here in Miyazaki Prefecture- south of Oita. (It is very far from here.) Miyazaki has more than its share of headaches this past year- hoof and mouth breakout last year that resulted in a slaughter of all cows, followed by bird flu this winter and now this volcano. Japan needs a break, needs to be spared from anything else…
There is now a national plea for reduced electricity use, there are rolling blackouts in Tokyo and the north, no postal service for Tohoku, evaucation ordered several minutes ago for another tsunami headed for Fukushima. Shit.
Stress level is high. I’ll write more again in a day or two. Need to get ba-chan to her monthly check-up now. Talk about personal stress- her condition has significantly worsened in the last month.
But we are safe, warm, have plenty of food, and grateful.
News Sources: English
Ways to help
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Even facebook is involved is information dissemination; The following information appeared at the top of all facebook homepages in Japan:
There will be a scheduled blackout (power outage) starting the morning of 3/14 in Tokyo, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka.
Areas will be divided into 5 groups and each group will experience about 3 hours of power outage.
Please refer to the TEPCO Homepage (as of now, the list is only provided in Japanese) to find out which group you are in and what time the power outage will occur in your group.
Train companies have announced that there will be irregular operation, including out of service hours. Summary here.
Major out of services are: Tokaido Line (all day), Yokosuka Line (all day), Yokohama Line (all day), Odakyu will only operate between Kyodo to Shinjyuku (all day), Keio will only operate between Chofu and Shinjyuku (during morning and evening rush hours).
The Facebook website will not be affected by this blackout.
About this box: Facebook uses this box to provide information to foreigners and visitors in Japan for the duration of the current crisis.