A Travellerspoint blog

Catching Our Breaths in Kofu, Yamanashi

山梨県甲府市、山梨市:ほったらかし温泉

sunny 6 °C

BGM: Don't Worry by Playing for Change

March 13, 2011

After 3 hours of continuous driving with no butt break, we stopped at the Hachioji rest area to stretch our legs. I bought more bread and coffee while my husband searched online for any open hotel in Kofu City that was still accepting late-night check-ins. We were lucky! An affordable one was just an hour's drive away. I couldn't believe how far from northern Kanto we were, yet how easily we could still feel the quakes down here. My husband wanted to top off the gas but all the stations in the mountains were either closed up or shut down. He pulled us up to an open 7-11 to buy some tea. But something really cool happened here: As soon as the car doors opened, our lungs filled with the sweet, soothing zing of fresh cedar and BAM! We were hooked! Neither of us had ever smelled anything like it before! How could we have lived so long in Japan and never known about this fragrance? We just stood there gasping under the stars, breathing deeply like hungry koi fish, realizing that there was way more Japan awaiting our discovery than we had ever imagined.

The drive through the mountain range west of Tokyo was relatively calm with nobody but us on the road. We zipped through the twists and turns, catching little sneak-peeks of Mt. Fuji glimmering in the silver moonlight. Passing hot spring after hot spring, I found myself wishing that we could linger, if only for a moment. But before I knew it, we started to descend out of the mountain pass down into a valley that sparkled with a million lights, twinkling like stars. It felt as if we were in an aircraft lowering onto to the tarmac of Paradise. The song Don't Worry was blasting on my iPhone (well, blasting as well as it could for an iPhone), and when the lyrics mixed with the ethereal sight before our eyes, we both felt moved to sing along in praise, feeling a sense of great deliverance. We had made it to Yamanashi, the Promised Land! With hundreds of mountains separating us from any possible nuclear fallout, we were safe! And with a killer view of Mt. Fuji, to boot!

All snuggled into our hotel room at the Route Inn Kofu, I can't tell you how refreshing it was to finally take a hot shower and put on some fresh undies. (I'm sure many of you travelers and college students can relate). Too exhausted to watch the TV, we passed out on the bed and fell instantly asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows. But somewhere around 5am the next morning, our cell phone earthquake alarms buzzed, scaring the bejesus out of us. For a second, I couldn't tell if the earthquake that followed was a dream or reality, but as my husband slept on, I bolted up and flicked on the TV to see what we'd missed: All network programming in the Kanto region had been taken over by the government. Between long stretches of weather and dismal news reports, the only commercials allowed to air were from the Ad Council, teaching kids and adults how to pretend to be happy and kind to each other. It didn't take long before we could accurately recite all the jingles.

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The explosion in Unit 1 the night before had injured 4 workers and the evacuation zone had been expanded to 20km. Lame. Unfortunately, our suspicions had been correct so far, though we still couldn't believe it at all. I opened the curtain to check out our view. We were completely surrounded by mountains. The Minami Alps further west, visible from the hallway window across from our room, were completely covered in shimmering white snow. I wasn't jealous, though. Our view was good enough for me. Any mountain view is always better than none.

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Groggy and stumbling in our poorly-fitting vinyl hotel slippers, we followed our noses to the first floor lobby. The Route Inn Kofu roadside hotel showed us an impressive breakfast buffet spread with everything from Japanese rice, soup and fish to Western omelet, croissants, salads and sausages. We took full advantage of it. It was awesome to have a hot, cooked meal, again.

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My husband noticed another tired-looking family in wrinkled clothes talking quietly to each other in the restaurant. He said he had seen their car in the parking lot the night before- packed to the ceiling as if they too had done so last-minute. Their plates were from Utsunomiya, Tochigi. Were they nuclear refugees? We had the feeling we'd be seeing more of them on our trip.

We agreed to just hang out resting at the hotel for awhile, researching the area online and waiting for the next sign from God, or wherever it would come from. We were nearly out of gas and still having trouble locating an open station, so we couldn't go far if we did go out. I called my head supervisor to inform her of our plans of waiting out the weekend in the mountains. She understood completely. Our company was still closed from the earthquake, anyways. After extending my holiday period to allow for whatever might happen, she gave us her blessing and well-wishes. (The world would be a better place if it had more supervisors like her in it).

Government spokesperson Edano Yukio; it was such a trip watching this guy in action! I'd like to say he always tirelessly gave us the official updates on the Fukushima situation, but with each telecast, he looked more and more exhausted. You could actually see his hair graying with every update! (Mental note to self: get more sleep!) He looked especially ragged whenever he mentioned radiation. That couldn't be good.

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The hotel staff told us of a nearby gas station and an open post office just down the road! We were saved! For our sanity, after fueling up, we went for a leisurely drive into the mountains around Kofu to explore the sleeping vineyards that produce the famous Yamanashi Kyoho grapes, a mid-summer delicacy. As farmers carefully pruned and re-staked the vines, we plodded through the brown underbrush, savoring the fresh mountain air (way different from Kanto smog) and soaking up the sunshine. We lingered next to a gorgeous white plum tree in full bloom, covered from top to bottom with intoxicating, sweet-smelling white flowers. Were we close to heaven or what?

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Back in town, we discovered a few small shopping centers and stocked up on provisions: plenty of bottles of imported water, some fresh fruit, veggies and iodine-rich foods like wakame and nori. We also bought a few salads and a package of Korean-style kimbap (rice, meat and vegetables rolled in seaweed). Not bad for a small town store! We could eat cheap, healthy salads in the hotel room while saving money for gas. Worked for us!

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March 14, 2011

We spent the next day in a similar fashion, searching for a spare gas tank and misc. supplies while exploring our new environs. The mountains of Yamanashi are edged with charming little towns comprised of Showa-style farm houses and vast fruit orchards. Fresh mountain water flows in from the snow-capped peaks, running throughout the valley via gutters, canals and irrigation ditches. In other words, the land here is quite blessed. We could only imagine how gorgeous it looked in summer!

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Though we enjoyed being outdoors, the ground still shook regularly, so we did our best never to stray too far from the car. As we checked home centers and farming supply shops, our efforts to secure the ever-elusive gas tank came up fruitless. This time, however, everywhere we went, the store lights were turned off. TEPCO would be imposing rolling blackouts throughout Kanto from the 15th onward, yet Yamanashi had already been doing this on a voluntary basis. It was a bit inconvenient. Still, it was also kind of fun shopping in the dark -that is until we got hungry. The grocery stores in Yamanashi completely locked down for those three hours without power. With fewer cargo ships on the sea and no trucks on the highways bringing in supplies, many everyday items were completely gone from the shelves. The locals had also bought up all the cooking gas cartridges, candles, instant noodle soups and batteries in preparation for the next few weeks of mandatory power outages. Even this far away from the disaster area, people were still being affected. It was incredible. But everywhere we went, there was still lots of candy! (Not that we'd ever eat it...)

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I informed my husband that we were near another hot springs town. Fortunately for me, he agreed that a good soak would do us some good. Our little car diligently climbed up the steep mountainside, past cherry and Asian pear groves to Hottarakashi Onsen, Atchi no Yu, Kotchi no Yu (ほったらかし温泉:あっちの湯こっちの湯). We spent a good thirty minutes trying to get a decent shot of Mt. Fuji in the blinding sunlight, then continued to the top of the mountain where we had a beautiful, healing soak overlooking the whole valley, with a perfect view of Fuji from our respective hinoki wood tubs. The clear, silky water felt incredible, leaching out all the stress of the week from my pores. I stared at Fuji, glowing regal in the setting sun. From here, the world looked just fine. A small crowd of ladies had gathered around me as I retold my personal account of the earthquake. I felt a bit like Threepio describing the past two Star Wars films, resorting to pantomime and sound effects when my knowledge of Japanese vocabulary failed me. Somehow, they seemed to understand me. Though I had experienced practically nothing compared to the millions still dealing with the aftermath, they kindly listened to my story with sympathetic ears, anyway.

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My husband met me in the gravel-covered courtyard under the hot spring's yard lights. A small group of people were drinking beer in front of a warm, crackling fire. They asked us to join their group. We had fun trying to communicate in mutually poor foreign language skills while cheering "kampai" with our cups of soda. Since we didn't drink alcohol, my husband bought us each a cool, creamy vanilla ice cream cone and we enjoyed the jolly company of our new friends until the hot springs closed for the evening.

That night on the TV, we heard that there might have been another explosion but nobody was sure if it was radioactive or not. My Japanese friends kept saying I should return home and wait it out. But my husband said we should hang out in the mountains just a little bit longer. We would know more in the days ahead.

March 15, 2011

Despite all the chaos that surrounded us, my husband was rapidly falling in love with Yamanashi. We booked a few nights at an inexpensive hot springs lodge up the highway and before pulling out of town , we shared a cheap boxed lunch at a nearby park, enjoying a moment of serenity.

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We were nearly 5 minutes away from our next hotel when news of Unit 3's second explosion suddenly reached our ears. We then dropped all of our plans and reset our course for Osaka, where we could hopefully catch a free plane to California, since my government was encouraging all Americans to leave Japan. Hundreds of foreigners around the country had already left by this point, heeding the desperate calls of worried family back home.

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The government and TEPCO insisted that the blast wasn't radioactive, but we weren't convinced. Isn't it strange how an event like this can suddenly turn everyone into a nuclear physicist? Everybody with a mouth suddenly knew everything about the nature and effects of radioactivity. Most of our Japanese friends simply repeated what the media told them and hinted that we were bordering on irrational. We could honestly say though that we were both acting on instinct alone. We tried to tell our closest friends with children that they should consider getting out, too (since the effects of radiation usually take a generation to manifest) but we were either met with cold silence or a hopeless sense of resignation. It must be a cultural thing, we concluded. If our own people had known that three explosions occurred at their local nuclear plant, they would've cleared out by themselves without having to be told and without being paid. But this was Japan, where your duty was to your company and your community, first. Besides, they had their whole lives here. As expats, we didn't. Without roots, indeed, we were isolated. But the upside to that was having true mobility.

So now it was a race against time. Hard spring rains were expected over the week for Kanto and we had to get as far away from them as possible. (What goes up must come down, right?) We got an offer to hide out with some work affiliates who lived in Osaka, so my husband immediately set the GPS co-ordinates for Kansai. Once there, we could apply to get sponsored passage back home to the States. This wasn't the way I wanted to say "sayonara" to my Japanese Dream, but it was looking like I no longer had a choice.

(All content copyright GenkiLee, 2012. No part shall be reproduced without the expressed written consent of the author).

Posted by GenkiLee 07:28 Archived in Japan Tagged yamanashi kofu hottarakashi_onsen atchi_no_yu_kotchi_no_yu Comments (0)

2 Steps Ahead of the Rain: Escape to the Minami Alps

Diary Excerpts from March 12, 2011

sunny 5 °C

BGM: Stand By Me by Playing for Change

March 12, 2011

6:30am. Dishes suddenly rattled in the kitchen as yet another strong aftershock shook me awake. Realizing that it was morning, I hurriedly shoved my water bottle and power cords back into my backpack, threw on my parka and clinging tightly to the wall, carefully descended the stairwell. The head supervisor greeted me warmly but with sleepless, puffy eyes. She had stayed the whole night at the office with the eight of us who were stranded, so we wouldn't feel alone, bless her heart! She checked the JR schedule online for me to see if any trains were running. A few of the Joban trains headed north were finally operational! She handed me a newspaper to put in my emergency bag (could be used for virtually anything, she explained), and with a final hug and a "you'll be fine," she saw me on my way.

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Though it was only 7:30am, Funabashi Station (Chiba Prefecture) was already packed with tired, anxious commuters- all trying to use their cell phones in vain, all trying to get home. Yet without panicking, every single person on the platforms patiently waited their turn to board the trains that pulled up every twenty minutes. There was no rude pushing or shoving, no fights or panicking. It was amazing to witness. Everyone knew that we all had to be civil, since so many had lost their lives and many more were suffering. We were a community. It was time to be good to each other, now. I felt honored to be there in that moment.

I dreaded each train ride, praying my worst nightmares wouldn't come true. But I had nothing to worry about: we glided smoothly and surely from stop to stop. There was only a slight delay from the immense crowds coming through the doors, but no aftershocks to speak of.

I plugged into my cell phone's TV to catch up on the news and keep my mind busy. Some trains had flipped off their tracks in the city next to mine, so when I arrived at Kashiwa Station, I learned at the gate that I could go no further. The JR attendant, now wearing a yellow safety helmet instead of a dapper uniform cap, told me I had to find some other way of finishing the final leg.

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Finally able to send a simple text message, I let my husband know my location and he said he'd come pick me up by car. But what was normally a 20-minute drive for him had turned into two hours. I figured that would be the case, so I walked into Becker's burger shop, still operating as if nothing had happened, and ordered myself a sandwich with coffee, and two burger sets with fries (the hubby was bound to be starving!).

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I gotta tell you: after the kind of day that I had, that was the most delicious meal of my life!

Knowing it would only get me down, I was stupid and checked the news again on my tiny TV monitor. The body count, the loss, so horrifying! Beautiful places I'd once visited were now under the sea or completely covered under tons of rubble. I couldn't watch any more. I just couldn't. So I focused on the awesomeness of the savory, basil-spiked sandwich working its way down my grateful gullet and dreamed about that big hug my husband was gonna give me.

He pulled the car up to the restaurant, eyes yellow and bloodshot, six o'clock shadow grown on his chin. He only looked at the bag of welcome food in my hand, not at me. He was still spooked from the earthquake. I finally realized that this was the biggest he'd ever felt in his life (not that I was an old pro, though I'd seen my fair share of M6s and M7s in AK). But it was so good to be with my man, again! The sky could finish falling down as far as I was concerned.

We drove around our city slowly, surveying the damage. Almost every foundation of every house and stone wall built before 1990 had cracks in the corners and crumbling piles of rock everywhere. He showed me a few of the collapsed houses in the older part of town. And turning onto our street, I saw the once-magnificent stone torii gate that marked the entrance to our neighborhood, now lying dead on the ground as huge chunks of granite. I felt a small tear finally sliding down my cheek. My God. What had happened?

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We parked behind the budding cherry trees near our building. Nobody living on top of the hill (including us) had running water- all the mains had broken in the quake. About a few hundred feet away from us, the Defense forces had a water truck operating for the gathering crowd of mothers and children carrying buckets and clear plastic bottles. Watching them, my husband gratefully, but quickly, gobbled up his burger and fries, too tense to enjoy it but I could tell it helped a little. He then told me not to freak out about the apartment.

I followed him up the steps. Our communally-adopted homeless cat was there -visibly shaken but still up for a good scratch under the chin. The next-door neighbor fed him so he was in good shape. We opened the door and my husband told me to leave my shoes on. Shattered glass littered the floor of every room. I tried to turn on the water -not even a pressure sound! Hole in the wall, misaligned door frames- it was more than we could clean up in a day. We just stood there, staring at the mess and wondering where to start, aftershocks hitting every ten to fifteen minutes. They were really starting to get on our nerves, now- like flies that just keep coming back after you shoo them away.

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Stepping gingerly over the debris, I opened the back curtains to see our neighbor's old house. The vibration of the earthquakes had rattled the old stone roof tiles out of their foundation, pulverizing them into chunks and pebbles.

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After a well-needed trip to the loo at the convenience store (again, all the water was sold out), we called Mom to let her know we were alive and returned home to our holy mess, hearing the glass crunching into the tatami underfoot. My husband cleared the sofa with one big sweep of his arm- not caring where the stuff landed, and told me to take a break. Ignoring the monotonous, clanging bells from the disaster trucks wheeling by, I turned on the TV news and sat motionless, petrified at what my eyes and ears beheld: The cooling system of a reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was failing and the the exposed fuel rods were growing hotter and hotter. I called my husband into the living room and asked him to accurately translate what I thought I heard. While staring at the screen for signs that it was all a bad movie, I saw the white cloud of pure fear sweep across my husband's face. He couldn't react to anything, not even me. And his blank expression petrified me to the bone.

My new job was the most fun I'd had in my life and I didn't want to leave it. We were finally making progress in this town. We were finally financially independent. Yet with all that, our souls knew what had to be done.

"Whatever you decide, Love, I'll follow you," I murmured. I suddenly felt nauseous- not from helplessness or fear, but from another rush of adrenaline as my body prepared itself for flight mode. I wanted to stay and help, seeing the reports of lifeless bodies on the shore, children swept away into the sea, people stranded and in need. But now this?! Radioactivity was a thing of nightmares and Hollywood movies, not real life. Not in this safe country. I thought about my future in that moment. I still wanted to have children -healthy children. I wanted to live a long, healthy life with my husband. Was staying here so important that we'd risk our own health for it? We both knew the answer was "no."

"We need to get away from here," he said. "At least 300 km away. That's what the Net says. Get packed."

Somehow, I knew this moment would come, when I would have to survive with almost nothing. I looked at all of my things in a pile, and knew that practically none of it would be useful to my husband's or my own survival. So I picked up about a week's worth of underwear, some clothes that weren't covered in glass, snapped a few pictures of the damage, bagged up some of the fresh vegetables and fruit still in my fridge, some vitamins, a first aid kit and the stuff I brought home from the drug store in Chiba. I grabbed the most important documents I could find, our wedding rings and my computer. I shoved it all into three bags and after a big, warm hug in the entrance way, ran with my husband down the stairs to our tiny little car.

There was no time to say goodbye to anything. We knew we had to get to the other side of the mountain range -at least to be ahead of the storm coming in from the north. Looking at our weather app, heading southwest looked like the smarter deal. "Yamanashi," my husband said.

So we filled up on gas, coffee and snacks and rolled quietly out of town, agreeing to keep our story a secret so as not to cause a panic. The streets were strangely quiet. With the news as frightening as it was, we thought the highways would already be blocked from Miyagi to Tokyo with evacuees. But we were the only ones leaving town! Everyone else was still trying to get home. Shinjuku, one of Tokyo's busiest areas, was almost like a ghost town!

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We had absolutely no idea what we would do in Yamanashi, but we were on our way there. Somewhere around 9:00pm that night, we heard an announcement on the news that evacuations were issued for people living within 3km of the power plant. We knew from reading history, that was far too little, too late.

(All content copyright GenkiLee, 2012. No part shall be reproduced without the expressed written consent of the author).

Posted by GenkiLee 09:15 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

After Shock: The Big One Hits East Japan

Diary Excerpts from March 11, 2011

sunny 6 °C

BGM: Natural Mystic by Bob Marley

March 11, 2011

I'm not going to say it doesn't seem real, because ever since I took this job, this scenario had been running through my mind every single day. Except I always imagined myself dangling from the handle straps of a derailed train somewhere in the smoking Tokyo infrastructure, clinging for dear life. I think I was really damn lucky, today. So many others are facing Hell right now as I write this.

At the moment, I'm safe: I'm here on the second floor of our office building, reeling. My head feels like it wants to detach from my neck and float independent of my body. I can't watch the TV anymore; the damage all around eastern Japan is too great, too depressing. I don't want to call home and hear about how ruined and how terrible a mess it's become. I don't want to escape into the fantasy land of my iPhone. I can't relax anywhere -too bright, too noisy, too crowded. Besides, I'm still uneasy from all these aftershocks going off every 4 to 5 minutes.

Yet, my Mom endured a quake much bigger than this one. I can't be a weenie. I just can't. Resilience is supposed to run in my family.

At 2:47pm today, just two minutes into my work, fresh off from break, I thought I was having a sugar attack from lunch. Nope. "Jishin" (earthquake) my manager said calmly. But as the ground rumbled and we felt our bodies swaying, we all looked at each other in disbelief. This sucker was strong! (Alaskans and Japanese oughtta know!) We quickly ducked under some furniture, covering our heads as the shaking got stronger and stronger. Books and small objects flew off the shelves onto the floor, but the walls weren't creaking at all. (God bless Japanese quake-resistant architecture!)

As soon as the shaking died down, the building's earthquake alarms sounded like clockwork. We scrambled to our feet and evacuated the building, running to the open park in the middle of the complex. As the dust finally settled in my mind, my first real thoughts were about my husband, on the eighth floor of that old building on a riverside ledge, a whole hour's train-ride to the north. "Oh God, please don't take him," I repeated aloud as I ran, praying to be heard.

We all huddled there in the blustery cold wind and waited with children still in their pajamas, shaken mothers and worried old ladies. A group of college boys laughed in their fear, comparing stories while watching the towering buildings in nervousness. Between aftershock alerts and the grating squawks of the national emergency broadcasting system, NHK Radio played 1970's American folk like the Mamas & the Papas and John Denver, for what reason I don't know. The music was so calm and emotionless it was absolutely nerve-wracking as we saw birds panic and take flight before each new rumbling aftershock. Watching the power lines and trees swaying, we all looked up to the sky, frightened, on edge, waiting for another, bigger shock to finally take all the buildings down. Where did this come from? I asked myself. The epicenter couldn't have been here in Chiba. The buildings would've been on fire by now. The time seemed to crawl on forever until finally, another announcement from the city hall echoed throughout the town -a tsunami alert had been issued for Tokyo Bay and we at sea level had to evacuate to at least the second floor.

Before heading back to the building, I finally got through to my husband on the phone. He said that our apartment was still standing but our utilities were cut and the insides were covered in broken shards of glass from stuff thrown to the middle of the floor. He was at his office downtown by the Tone River when it hit. He said he saw the earthquake ripple through the banks like waves on the sea. After escaping the shaking building via the fire escape, he got in his car and drove home past downed power lines and crumbled old houses to find our apartment a virtual mess. As he talked to me, he sounded both elated and scared, tweaked and high on adrenaline. Up on the 8th floor of that building is no place to be during a shaker of any size! But he made it! Thank God he made it!

I had to get back to work since I was still on the clock, but I was finally able to concentrate knowing my husband was alive and unharmed. We all situated ourselves on the second floor, keeping an eye on the exit as aftershocks rocked us, one after another. Our head supervisor turned on the big screen TV and for 5 minutes, we were simply floored as we saw terrifying images of black, debris-filled ocean water sweeping gracefully, effortlessly over the rice fields of Miyagi Prefecture. It was so massive and frighteningly surreal. Of all the bone-chilling images a person could see in a lifetime, for me, that video clip of reality was the scariest.

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My commute was the longest of the entire work crew and the head supervisor, very sympathetic to my situation, knew I was in for some rough times ahead. We gave each other a hug, glad to hear our husbands were unharmed. She then told me to go downstairs, clock out, watch the news and contemplate my next step, since getting home that night would be impossible. She was right. She survived the great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 in Osaka. When something this big happens, everything stops and there's nothing to do but wait -and pray.

The ground rumbled every 5 minutes as I sat there in our tiny dressing room that doubled as a lounge, eating a cereal bar on the big yellow couch. My jaw dropped as the news unfolded: Upgraded to M8.9 on the Richter scale with two epicenters (one off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture and the other off the coast of northern Ibaraki). A fire here, a deluge there, people buried in rubble, landslides and thousands feared dead -I wanted to throw up, completely overwhelmed. I found myself getting annoyed at one of my co-worker's insensitive chatter; her house was fine and she boasted that she was happily headed home, while the eight of us were still stranded there with no chance of returning to our worried families. But she'd also survived the '95 Hanshin quake, so she was entitled, I guess. Good for her. Other staff members started piling in to watch the TV until there was no more room to walk. To get out of that crowded, smelly room and to try to shake my pounding headache, I walked out to the drugstore underneath the now-quiet train tracks in hopes of securing for myself some emergency provisions.

A lonely yellow Sobu Line train sat motionless at the platform. Everyone had been evacuated out of the station and thousands of passengers in black and brown overcoats were lined up in an arc circling the entire roundabout, all patiently waiting for a chance at the payphone to call their loved ones, since everyone's cell phones were down. The main department stores had closed too, for customer safety, shutters drawn. The streets were filled with people all looking up and around in a daze. Without the trains rolling, the city was unnervingly quiet. I accidentally stepped into a pile of shattered window glass; no doubt shaken out of its frame from the quake. Matsumoto Kiyoshi drug store was closed, but I was glad to find the old mom and pop store still open. The friendly clerk in his eighties who always sells me my hand cream looked alright despite the day's events. We asked about each others' condition. He'd seen a lot of earthquakes in his day- but nothing like this, he said. I bought some ear plugs, heat packs, water, shampoo, cereal bars, antiseptic gel, tissue and a towel, wishing him good luck. He shook my hand warmly and told me to be careful.

I checked the local Family Mart convenience store to see what useful things they had. All the bottled water, batteries, toilet paper and bento boxes were already sold out! A good-sized aftershock hit just then as I shopped, rattling the racks loudly, making pencils and toys fall to the floor. I started picking up stuff and putting it back on the shelves but the clerk, smiling warmly, thanked me and told me not to bother. I asked him how he felt during the big one, since I bought some tea from him that morning before I started work. He said he was worried about the customers more than anything. What a sweetie!

I bought a recharger for my cell phone and a small peanut butter n' jelly sandwich, placing it in my pack for when I really needed it. Munching on a cereal bar, I shuffled back to the office building, looking down for broken glass and up for swaying buildings.

The two chefs at our office volunteered to cook whatever food was left in our kitchen and prepared for us a meager but nourishing meal of rice balls, chicken nuggets and wakame soup. We were extremely grateful. Some of the other workers, before walking home, dropped off boxes of donuts and snacks so we wouldn't spend the night hungry. "This isn't scary," I told one of the staff who didn't think earthquakes happened elsewhere in the world. "The nuclear reactors that often fail after an earthquake -that's the thing to worry about," I said, remembering what happened during the last big earthquake near Ibaraki. Shock was starting to settle in and I couldn't be civil in that small room with 8 gabby women pressed hip-to-hip watching the TV. Knowing I was stranded there for the night, and unable to make contact with my husband since the one time just after the earthquake, I walked alone upstairs to the empty second floor, found a chair in the cafeteria and started writing, for therapy.

I selected a corner of the room with a power outlet (and no windows) to be my emergency camp for the night. I located a tatami-size floor mat and using my parka as a comforter and a backpack for my pillow, settled in. After a while of repetitive aftershocks, you can sorta feel when they're coming; the ground begins to hum and vibrate in the distance, growing into an approaching, rumbling ripple of motion and then the shakes begin. As I rode out each wave, it felt like I was on the ferry from Otaru to Maizuru all over again, only not as pleasant. I tried calling my husband one more time. I GOT THROUGH! He decided to sleep in the car that night since the apartment was too dark and all utilities were still off-line. We gave each other survival advice and cut it short to save our batteries. Then I checked my mail: over 40 loved ones from around the world were worried about me, praying for my safety. I let Mom and a few close friends know I was okay, requesting check-ins from my friends still in Japan. Fortunately, everyone was alright. What a miracle!

I plugged myself into my mp3 player and pushed "play." The last song I was listening to on the train to work, "Natural Mystic" by Bob Marley, finished out in my ears and for once, I truly listened to the lyrics. "Many more will have to suffer..." God, I hope not. I prayed for the lives lost, and for the ones now suffering in the cold and dark. It was still winter up north.
Somehow, miraculously, I drifted into a light sleep.

(All content copyright GenkiLee, 2012. No part shall be reproduced without the expressed written consent of the author).

Posted by GenkiLee 07:06 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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