Posted in Japan News

All the Alarms and None of the Panic

I woke up at 1:00 a.m. to yet another alarm blaring throughout the city. It’s a normal part of living here, at least once a month either a phone alarm or city alarm going off to warn for either the typhoon smashing into Japan or an earthquake shaking things up. I groggily got up and listened.

For the first time ever, the alarm announcement was in Japanese and then in English. It took me a second to register, “There is a tornado warning in effect.”

Cue the Kentucky resident rolling out of bed, grabbing her purse, and settling into the bathroom for the next hour. The odds of a tornado touching down in the Tokyo and Kanagawa area is generally low, but Saitama and Ibaraki thought the same thing until they got hit with twisters.

I was just watching YouTube videos as the wind howls outside last night. I couldn’t do anything about the weather besides keeping an eye on the radar. I waited the hour as two different red splotches on the radar pass my area. During that hour, I tried to call and text friends to let them know about the warning. Only one person was awake, so, success I guess.

As I sat there waiting for the storm to pass, I supposed this would be the place I would go if I got a missile alarm. As I live farther down south, I have yet to receive one of the missile alarms, but with a navy base just a few miles away the odds of my area being a target wasn’t out of the question.

All of my Japanese friends and co-workers all respond the same way to how they’re dealing with the missiles: “Shouganai, yo.”

しょうがない is the idea that “it can’t be helped,” as in there is no use worrying over something because it’s out of your hands. It can be both a boon and a curse. In some situations, like earthquakes and tornadoes, shouganai makes sense. There is no use in panicking over nature, she’s going to do what she’s going to do, so just find a safe place and wait. Other times, it can be a great excuse for laziness, like say a co-worker can’t be bothered to speak English in class because he’s a twit, and when you tell him it’s a damn English class so SPEAK ENGLISH and his response is “shouganai-!!” That is just an excuse to not do something.

For me, I’ve adopted the shouganai attitude for the “missile crisis” (which is apparently what the Western media is calling it?). I can’t control what North Korea is doing, and I can’t exactly move and quit work over the possibility of danger and death. I could die from any number of things, like getting hit by a car on my tiny narrow street while walking home, so letting North Korea dictate how I live my life isn’t feasible.

When the missiles went over Hokkaido, my school and co-workers started talking about evacuation plans and possible bomb shelters. The truth is the best place would be somewhere underground, but what homes in Japan have basements? The answer is few to none. Ok, so what about subways? Great for inner city Tokyo, but all of the trains in our area are above ground.

My school eventually decided the best thing is the same as the earthquake drill: Get under a desk and wait. So basically, waiting to see if we die or not, which is morbid to say, but still true.

My co-workers and students keep focusing on other things. The Cultural Festival (bunkasai) is coming up and we’ve got to plan for it. We have a plan if the worst is to come, but until then there’s no point in driving ourselves crazy thinking about it. Japan and the Japanese people refuse to live their lives in fear, and I’m doing the same.

After the storm finally settled, my apartment was fine and I was just mildly annoyed at my interrupted sleep. I checked the Japan Meteorological site to make sure the warning was over before heading right back into bed. Whether it be storms or missiles, I’m not going to let fear control my life.

 

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Posted in Uncategorized

5 Years Later: Reflections on March 11th

Today, Japan and its citizens stopped at 2:46 p.m. for a moment of silence. It was the same time when the great Tohoku Earthquake struck five years ago. The earthquake caused a tsunami, which in turn made the Fukushima Dainichi Reactor go into meltdown. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, over 18,000 lives were lost, and the damage dealt then still hasn’t been fully repaired.

 

I came to Japan in July of that same year. When I arrived in Itako, so many of the roads were cracked, shifted sideways, or in waves. The school across the street from me had a long crack up the side still being repaired. Most of the buildings in the area dropped an inch into the ground after the earthquake hit; due to the rice farming, the entire region was so soft underneath the ground just gave way.

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A sidewalk pushed up by the earthquake. The road used to be a straight line, not a curve. Notice the poles about to fall over. 

For a month or so, if I wanted clean water to drink and cook with, I’d have to bike all the way out to the supermarket to get water. I’d fill it up and lug it home with the groceries in a backpack killing my shoulders. The whole time I was doing it, I knew I was lucky because so many others were facing he grief of losing family, friends, and homes. I just had to do some exercise. Nothing I experienced could even come close to that kind of awful.

I was amazed at how resilient my Japanese co-workers and students were about everything. Even though their country just went through something terribly traumatic, they were still able to work forward towards getting back to normal. My teachers often praised me for coming to Japan after the earthquake, calling me brave, but I feel like my boarding a plane and their surviving a natural disaster weren’t comparable.

My students just rolled with the aftershocks, of which there were many in the year to follow, even if they sometimes needed to hold my hand when a big one struck during class. They’d still move on, go to the next class, keep trucking through. I really admired all of them for being so strong, even if they didn’t think of it.

Over the three years I lived there, I watched as everything slowly transformed. The roads around my apartment were done one at a time, painstakingly thorough in trying to make them straight again. You’d never know that the buildings are two inches shorter with all the stairs and foundations redone. When the construction finally died down, everyone relaxed and got into a groove of normalcy again. The cracks in the buildings and the psyches became faded lines that you had to look for, and if you weren’t looking you wouldn’t even see them at all.

Fukushima hasn’t been so lucky. Many people there are upset that the government isn’t doing enough in Fukushima. Many residents cite radiations concerns as their number one issue, since they fear with the decontamination not yet complete they and their families are in danger. Also, a complaint that pops up every other month is that the evacuees are still not given their stipends by the government for being forced to evacuate. Safety and money are in small supply for them.

I did some small volunteer efforts around Ibaraki, mostly just helping cleaning and such. I always meant to go up to Fukushima to volunteer, but I was told that most of the volunteer tourism was becoming a hindrance for people living there. Instead, I donated clothes and food, sometimes books if I could afford the postage. At Christmas time, I would send presents to children affected by the earthquake. Little things, here and there, and I still do them when the opportunity arises. It’s easy to think that enough time has passed and since the issue is no longer covered in the national news that the problem must be solved, but that simply is not the case.

Even though it’s been five years, the recovery and rebuilding efforts continue in all the affected areas. Every day people are continuing to help out those who lost so much. If you wish to donate, please consider giving to the JET’s Rally Cry for Tohoku. One JET teacher, Taylor Anderson, died in the disaster and her family set up an education charity in the hopes of aiding all the people who have lost so much. Just $25 can help provide living expenses for students through the YMCA. Honestly, there is still so much to do but with donations, money, and supplies given to the displaced residents, perhaps they can start to live securely again.


Cover photo credit: Japan Today| Reuters photos