Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Earthquake, Japan, and Me - Part 1

I will never forget sitting in front of a couch watching the waves from the Pacific Ocean race over miles of land, devouring everything in its path in seconds. Probably everyone who saw the TV that day surely has some footage etched into their mind somewhere of the CNN news reports. The quake in Japan is arguably one of the worst disasters to happen in recent years. Although the devastation visible on television was a horrible feat to witness, the waves of the tsunami and the tremors of the quake have crevices much deeper than we could see through the cameras. The disaster at Fukushima later also deepened these already open wounds. The Japanese psyche was wounded forever. 

The position I stood in when the disaster struck was fairly unique. In less than a month after that day, I was booked and ready to go to Japan for a semester to study. My destination was Okayama, a city in the far west next to Hiroshima, but I planned to land in Tokyo, stay a week, and take some time to relax before I headed off to school in Okayama. Going to concerts is my absolute favorite thing to do while in Japan, so I had planned and checked off which concerts I would be going to during the week already. Not having much money, I also planned to stay with a friend of mine while in Tokyo and I was looking forward to that as well as my 4-month long semester. As my friends and I sat watching those waves crash down and tear up everything in their paths no one quite understood what was going on in my head. I had no idea how this trip would turn out, if Tokyo would be fine, and if I could even get into the country. Would the situation clear up in a month? Was it  too late? Had my preparation for this exchange program been in vain? This and a million other questions weighed in my mind as I sat there in awe of the headlines. 

The internet was plastered with another disturbing report day after day. Eventually, it ended up coming to the devastating, “ all Americans urged to evacuate Japan” one. I had no idea how to deal with this. It was only days after the disaster and friends, family, and staff at my university gently urged me not to go. Some people wondered if I would even leave, and more people told me it would be absurd to even step foot in Tokyo. I had no idea what I would do. The city was a mess. NHK showed people waiting in line for hours to get on the Yamanote-sen, the most crowded train in Japan that runs through inner Tokyo. Slowly, one by one, the websites of the live houses I had planned to go to would post messages saying their concerts had been canceled. This was due to the power shortages in Tokyo urging everyone to cut down on power, which also explained the huge ques on trains: they were running much less frequently. I had almost no hope as day after day bands apologized sincerely on their websites for canceling shows, and one band from Aomori canceled their entire tour(their families had probably been affected). No one could possibly image how the situation getting worse everyday made me feel about not just my own plans in Tokyo, but all that I had worked for to get into this program deteriorate slowly day by day like a disease slowly killing its host. I had no idea what to think. 

Commuters que for a train in Akihabara after the disaster

It was all hard to believe. But this hell that existed on TV, the nation in chaos, all existed so far away from me. But I would be there soon. 

A telephone call made to me one day was what hit me the hardest and threw reality in my face. Suddenly getting up from bed, I answered the telephone and my mom was on the line. “I don’t think you should go to Tokyo anymore. We’ll have to change your flight. Listen to me, there really is nothing you can do.”

My friend who I would be staying with in Tokyo had by this time replied to me quite often. Her English was nearly perfect, so we could have discussions that were quite apart from others I had with people in Japan. From what I could gather she was completely torn up about the entire tragedy. Besides the physical damage, which she often sent pictures of to me, the disasters had clearly left something empty in her heart. There was something not there anymore. You could just tell, even if I had only been talking to her through email. Something was amiss. Honestly, I had wanted to see this Tokyo, this nation in a state that hadn’t been seen for years. I wanted to be there, in Japan, in this time where things were completely upside down. It would be a heavy burden to bear but I wanted to see it. Curiosity was getting the better of me. Furthermore, I wanted to be there for my friend who was in the middle of all of this, walking in the streets somewhere in the footage news cameras broadcasted every day. I wanted to be there with her to share this pain and tell her everything would work itself out. 

Convenience stores ran out of food all over Japan

My mom was here, though, telling me to abandon that. I was half asleep but her words reverberated in my ears for a long time. I had no idea what to say. This was one of those times I would have to give in and realize this was beyond my control. 

And so, my mom thought of a number of things for me to do instead. I had an aunt in Osaka that I had seen maybe once, when I was in middle school. I had no idea how she looked. My flight was re-routed to Kansai International airport, much closer to Okayama anyways, and my plans for going to school were left unscathed by the aftershocks so often experienced by the capitals inhabitants. I was still completely uneasy about all of this, but this gave me some new hope. In addition, a band I had wanted to see in Tokyo informed me personally that their show would be canceled due to power restrictions. Finding out they had instead opted to play a show in Osaka, I enthusiastically replied that I would be able to make it to that show instead. I also ended up diving deep into the underground of Osaka’s music scene, scouring the internet for places to best see live music, as well as what to generally do when one goes to Osaka. I also had the opportunity to plan a side journey to stay in Kyoto for a little bit with my professor’s in laws. It was looking up for my pre-semester plans. While Tokyo lay in chaos, I had re-routed my plans to have a peaceful stay in the West. 

As the days neared the dust settled and eventually I would have to leave and see what was up. Nothing much had happened over in Osaka, even less so in Okayama. My friend in Tokyo was disappointed that I wouldn’t be going, but I said it was all right. Let’s see what Kansai had in store for me. 



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