My homage to eastern Japan

11 Mar

Today is the second anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami that caused so much destruction in Tohoku. I can’t think of March 11th without remembering my personal experience that day. This year in psychology class, we learned about semantic memory (facts and figures), episodic memory (events), and emotional memory. All three types have been seared in my memory forever.

Here is an excerpt from my diary two years ago:

Today was one of the scariest days of my life. The time is 3:21 Saturday morning. My parents just got home [from picking my Mom up from work; the traffic was so congested that a twenty minute drive took hours] a few minutes ago.

Today was a perfectly normal, great day. I woke up early to go swimming with my mom before school; my classes were nothing special. After school was Bingo Night, the school’s second biggest fund-raising event of the year. I planned on ditching that to go to karaoke with friends–I was super excited. After the talent show in homeroom, I stopped at my lockers and picked up my bags before choir. I saw a bake sale in the breezeway. i was just about to buy a brownie when everything started shaking.

Now, the Breezeway is our name for the outdoor section of our school directly under an overpass, of sorts, that connects the middle and high schools. So, when the earthquake (locally felt about 7.9 or 8.0) hit, the “bridge” of school building above us began shaking up and down. A small group of 6 or 7 people were all afraid it would collapse on top of us. To top it all off, my school is on the top of a hill (I could feel the whole hill oscillate from side to side) and is so old, they are currently renovating for “safety reasons.”

Normally, earthquakes last about 2-3 seconds long. The first was easily more than a minute, and the second was about the same [wikipedia says it lasted around six minutes]. The worst part was that we didn’t know when it would stop.

As people evacuated the building, I scoured the crowds for my sisters. I may have shrieked once or twice at larger trembles, but I kept my composure pretty well otherwise. That is, I kept my composure until a red-eyed Erica (a senior with a sister in my grade) came and hugged me for a long time. I thought of my sisters, yet unseen, and I, too began to cry. It was not to be the last time today. Some semblance of order was found; our teachers grouped us by our classes. Water and snacks from the bake sale were distributed. Many were crying as we sat on the hill together. Everyone was trying to phone their parents, siblings, et cetera. Only some texts went through: the cell phone lines are STILL dead. Finally, I saw Tor, in passing. I waved to her to let her know I was ok, and she waved back. She told me after that when I waved to her, she started praying her thanks to Our Father in Heaven.

Everyone was ok (in our family).

On the hill, everyone was watching the tsunami, live, on their phones. The stores were empty within hours from people stocking up, so you could not get any toilet paper, milk, bread, et cetera. In the days following, this situation remained the same. You could only buy a quarter tank of gas at a time. When we evacuated, “we wound up leaving not from threat of radiation, but to escape the panic that consumed Tokyo.”

For me, the hardest part was after the quake. We were isolated in our own home; we were told to stay away from the windows for fear of radiation. Rumors rippled throughout Facebook about the varying degrees of danger the nuclear situation put us in. Every time there was an aftershock, Facebook knew within seconds. But what really got me was the news. Every day, a new number appeared, each higher than the last. Then, suddenly, the death toll jumped to 10,000 as they discovered that the town of Sendai was essentially wiped off the face of the earth. I remember laying on my bed, contemplating that number and why I personally was not harmed when there were so many in distress. I guess what was hardest for me was that I had too much time to think.

But things got better. Countless volunteer groups and individuals came together to give support. I saw messages on Facebook from around the world as people kept my adopted country in their hearts. I personally kept in contact with Mr. Awesome every day, even though we were separated by evacuation. I later discovered that he had intended to ask me to become his girlfriend at Karaoke that evening two years ago. (Our story, largely fairytale-ish, is here).

Throughout the rest of the school-year, as a leader of the biggest service organization in my school I watched a previously disinterested student body become aggressively active in their charitable efforts, monetary and non. The earthquake was what first taught me how bleak the world could be, but it also reminded me just how much love its inhabitants are capable of. I still see that today.

This does my heart good.


One Response to “My homage to eastern Japan”


  1. the fairy tale boy | that blog about - March 12, 2013

    […] plan was to ditch Bingo Night to go to Karaoke with my group of friends plus Mr. Awesome. Due to tragic events, we were unable to get together that night. Little did we know that Mr. Awesome was to be evacuated […]

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