I am not very good at expressing emotion vocally. I find that I can't get my words across and usually what I say is misconstrued by others. This is the reason I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be understood, heard, and feel like people got what people got what I was saying.
As such, I find myself unable to express in words how I feel about the enormous earthquake and the tsunami that came afterwards. Truth be told I don’t even think I know how to feel. But sitting in this office, I feel so useless and in the way. There really is nothing to do at this point. At least there is nothing I can do but be in the way. Honestly, I just need something to do and some way to make sense of this. Unfortunately the only way I know how to cope is to write so I just plan on writing until I can’t write anymore.
When the earthquake hit, I knew it was big. We had just had a decently sized quake two days prior and we were still feeling the aftershocks. So when we got the alert, when everyone in the office got the same alert, I knew it may be a bigger deal. I could not have foreseen how big of a deal it was.
At first it was like the other one and no one seemed to worry, but as it began to get worse I found myself looking to my boss to gauge what my next move should be. While everyone else was slowly getting up, he remained seated with an emotionless expression. It was only after it had passed that he revealed that he had never felt an earthquake that large before and had frozen up. Looking around I realized that no one had felt an earthquake that large before. I began to feel more worried.
When the tsunami warning came, I didn’t know what to expect. They said we had forty minutes until it hit. I followed everyone else into the building and they told us that it would probably be best for us to wait there. When the tsunami actually hit, I honestly didn’t notice it at first. Our office sits between two rivers but I really couldn’t see anything with the wall and several trees in the way. After a few minutes however, I could see it clearly. Usually the rivers are just small trickles (probably closer to a creek back home) but now they looked like raging rapids. We watched the current moving in reverse carrying trees and bits of whatever had been in its path. A part of me couldn’t figure out whether to be in awe or completely scared shitless.
Fortunately, the water never rose above the wall where we were, but it was still quite frightening and if it had been a few inches higher, it definitely would have cleared the wall. I watched as people rushed into City Hall (which was apparently a refugee center) and watched the water from the third floor. I don’t remember exactly when Zack left to try and find Georgia, but I feel like an hour passed until I dropped Erica off and went home.
There were no traffic signals and it seemed to be a free for all at intersections. I was used to losing power, but in America when power went out intersections became for way stops. In Japan this was not the case. People who were going straight just kept going (I don’t even think I saw anyone slow down) and people who were turning had to find an opening and take it. I however was not in the mind state to jump out into an intersection and possibly a car accident so I turned, hoping that I could find another way home. The sun had just set and I was able to see just how much of the city was without power, it was frighteningly dark. Probably not the best time to be driving down an unfamiliar road. But going that way I was able to see the extent of the blackout.
I got home just before the last bit of light went out and ran into Zack who hadn’t found Georgia, but said that her town was in bad shape. The tsunami hit it pretty hard and from the look on his face, I knew he was very freaked by it. However he said that the roads had been blocked and that when it started to get dark he came back so he could try again tomorrow. With no lights or candles, we ended up going to Erica’s.
We tried to keep our spirits up, but as we sat around the sole source of light in the room, no one could hide the tension of the situation. It had been at least five hours and no one had phone service. We hadn’t heard from many of our friends and for the most part, we were cut off from the rest of the world. Of course, the situation still didn’t seem that major, but looking back I think it was because nothing like this had ever happened to me before. If the people who lived here had no idea what do, then there was no way in hell I would be able to have a grasp on it. Eventually, after still not being able to reach Georgia, Zack went home. I could tell he was freaked, but like I said I am not the best person when it comes to words.
The next morning we were greeted by Adam, whom we hadn’t heard from. He told us that Kenji had Internet (although for a limited time) and that we should probably e-mail our families to let them know we’re alright. When we got there, we found Joseph, which meant that most of the ALT’s from the city were accounted for (with the exception of Zack and Georgia). I was also informed that the earthquake and tsunami had made national headlines and that many cities had been destroyed. However it still hadn’t quite sunk in yet. I checked my e-mail and was surprised to find many e-mails. I quickly sent one to an email I believed to be my mothers and let other people get online.
We stayed at Kenji’s Print Shop for the rest of the day. It consisted of us sitting around still in shock and watching what was happening at the Lawson’s convenience store and the Idemitsu gas station across the street. It was obvious that many people were just as unsure of what to do as we were. People would pull up to the Lawson’s which was obviously closed, walk up to the door, and then stand around for a few minutes before getting into their cars and driving away. The line for the gas station seemed endless and every time I checked, it seemed like it wasn’t even moving.
In terms of food there wasn’t much to go on. The grocery stores and convenience stores had been closed and anywhere there was food, there would probably be a line around the block. Fortunately, there was a local tobacco shop behind Kenji’s that sold snacks that didn’t need water or electricity. There were also cake shops open selling anything they had because without refrigeration, it would all go bad. So our food for the day consisted of an assortment of chips, Oreos, and baked goods. It probably wasn’t the healthiest of meals, but it was all we had.
A majority of our time was spent wondering if Zack had found Georgia and if the two of them were safe. We hadn’t heard from him since the previous night save one note he had left on his door for her. That had been hours ago. Eventually they showed up a little bit before sunset and suddenly we felt a little bit more relieved. I didn’t know how to react, but I was just glad that they were both okay.
Georgia revealed that the tsunami had come and trapped her on the second floor of the Board of Education building. She had spent the night there with no blanket, no heat, and no power. She had seen the power of the tsunami firsthand and even took a video, which was the first time we had seen how powerful the tsunami actually was. It was slowly beginning to sink in how fortunate we had been.
At some point we found that our phones were working again and were surprised to receive an enormous amount of e-mails from relatives and random people. Apparently the news had made national headlines and some of us had declared missing. The images they had been showing were enough to frighten anyone. I didn’t have access to any news outlets other than the radio (which I didn’t understand), but once again I could tell that it was bigger than I initially though. I found myself sending e-mails to Liz so that she could somehow let my mother know I was safe. I felt a little less worried, but the uneasy realization that I had no idea what was happening stayed prominent.
The rest of the night went rather slowly. We played music to pass the time and ate a makeshift dinner around a small candle. Later we sat around the radio and listened to how bad it had been for others. The death toll was in the thousands, equally as many were missing and it was obvious that this was not average. There was also talk of a nuclear explosion, though the reactor supposedly kept it contained. Once again, I found myself unable to sleep. Most of it was due to once again feeling helpless, but it could also be attributed to the fact that Kenji and Adam snored.
Sunday morning, we were awoken by one of Kenji’s employees coming in for work. They told us that the power was back on. However, water was still off. We all slowly made our way home and went off in separate directions.
I got home to find my house unharmed save for a single bottle of sauce that had fallen out of the shelf and shattered. I sat down, watched a movie because I wasn’t ready for the avalanche of e-mails and messages. Finally I changed my Facebook status to let people know I was safe. I then called my mother on Skype for the first time. My family doesn’t get too hysterical so the call was calm and I was able to put her fears at ease. I was also able to talk to my brother and father. I wanted to check the news for the first time, but my mother warned me that I should wait until after I had rested. I took her advice and passed out for three hours.
When I finally woke up, I finally checked the news for the first time. I still don’t know what to feel, but I finally understand how big the situation actually was. Watching a video of Miyako being hit by the tsunami was insane. I had actually been there before and walked down the streets. I had driven along some of the coastal roads which were now wrecked. The damage done by the tsunami seemed like something out of a disaster movie. I still couldn’t comprehend it all, but was immediately aware of just how lucky we all were in comparison to other places. That was not lost on me and will never be lost on me.
Currently, as I am writing this, it is almost noon on the following Monday and I am sitting in the office. It is surreal because it would almost seem like a normal day. Everyone is at work and at their desks like nothing has happened for the most part. However, you can see nervousness on everyone’s face and we all seem to stop at every tremor underfoot. It has obviously unnerved many people and rightfully so. The death toll is now at 10,000 and rising. Entire cities have been utterly decimated. People don’t know where their families are or even what to do next. Pardon my French, but it is fucking terrifying and the worst part is that it may not be over. Even if the earthquakes and the aftershocks die down, we will be dealing with the aftermath of the destruction for a long time. The Kuji City Superintendent (our boss’s boss) is a man that has always come off as very cool and calm, but even he was visibly shaken by the ordeal. I almost found myself in tears when he tearfully asked us to be there for the children and to let them know that things would be alright. But the thing is, I don’t know if they will.
Truthfully I don’t know how I feel about the situation. I feel fortunate to be alive, but at the same time I feel survivor’s guilt and frustration. I laid awake last night wondering why was so fortunate to have survived. I mean there were people that probably had much more to live for and people that would contribute much more that I ever will. I came to this country to teach, but my life’s work has been a comic book that many people will never read. People aren't supposed to have thoughts like this, but honestly what can I do? I feel helpless and unable to do anything worthwhile. I’m a writer and I can barely do that well. It can be frustrating at times because while I feel fortunate, I also feel like there is nothing for me to do. I’m among the living, but it isn't that great when you feel like you are just wasting space.
Now, it looks like there is no gas left and we probably will be without it for a while. The water is probably going to be rationed and there are talks about power rations to conserve energy. I believe that things here will get better eventually, but at the same time I have a feeling that it will be a long time before they do.