I Think I'm Turning Japanese
I was sitting at my desk at Tsurukabuto, fresh from playing outside with the elementary school children, relishing the warm sun on my back and the fact that I just pulled off three amazing classes in a row with my second graders. I was once again feeling like an elementary school rock star, earning high fives and hugs and points and giggles from the little kids that I hadn't taught before. It was my only class of the semester with them, and I was on cloud nine.

Then Kyouto-sensei turned on the news. I thought maybe he was checking in on a sports core or about to review the footage from that morning's sixth grade graduation ceremony. But instead I saw the news of crumbled buildings in Tokyo and rabid Japanese being spoken and flashing maps of Japan with the north east coast highlighted in red.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Earthquake," was Kyouto-sensei's simple reply.

It looked like a huge earthquake, but based on the blinking dot off the coast of Japan, I was relieved that it had occured in the middle of the ocean. Perhaps that meant not too much damage had been done. But then it struck me what happens when large earthquakes strike in the middle of shallow ocean waters. Images of the aftermath of the Thai tsunami a few years ago flashed in my head, and I asked, hesitantly, "Tsunami?"

Just as soon as the word escaped my mouth, I heard the news anchor echo, "Tsunami." It was just me, Kyouto-sensei, and the chief examiner in the staff room, and we huddled closer to the TV screen. I had no idea what was being said, and I couldn't read the complicated Kanji, but I knew from the look of fear on my co-workers' faces that it was not good. I tried to ask in broken Japanese, "How big is the tsunami? Where is it?" In return, Kyouto-sensei answered in broken English, "Miyagi. Big. Ju-yon meter." 

The chime struck for the end of fifth period, and a couple other teachers entered the staff room, laughing with each other. But, as soon as they saw the news on and the grave look on our faces, their laughter stopped and they joined us at the TV screen. 

At first all we saw was footage of some roads slowly getting flooded. Cars were still driving, although it looked like if they went any slower, soon they would start floating. However, within minutes, the water level had risen and all of a sudden the cars started getting swept out of the screen shot. The camera panned back, and we saw that the street had flooded so much, and the cars were getting carried over an overpass. We watched with horror as the cars, with people still in them, cascaded down over the guard rail and into the river below, tumbling and tumbling and then bobbing around under the river.

Then the camera switched to an aerial view of Sendai, and we watched as a dark wave carrying debris swiftly ate up the landscape. It was a helpless and utterly surreal moment, watching as cars and trucks that were desperately trying to outrun the incoming wave got swept up. Soon there was no more land to be seen, just cars, boats, and trucks swirling around. Some buildings had caught fire and were now floating, and as the camera panned back even more it looked like a scene out of a big budget disaster movie. But, this was real life, and these were real people, and there was no hero that was going to come in and save everyone.

I immediately emailed my mom and Dan to let them know that I was safe and far from any tsunami. 

I watched the coverage for over an hour before I realized that I was allowed to go home. I wasn't sure what to do, but I realized there really wasn't anything to do. I didn't personally know anyone in the Miyagi prefecture, but I know that many of my friends and coworkers have family and friends there.

In the hours after the tsunami hit, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of concern coming from all corners of the globe. Emails, Facebook messages, phone calls, and texts all came, and I met frantic voices with my own voice of reassurance and relief. It made me wonder what would have happened if we didn't have this technology, and I couldn't stop feeling a sense of gratitude that I was safe from a disaster that was so near.

Please continue to keep Japan in your thoughts and prayers. It is a terrible tragedy, but I am so proud of the way the people around me are handling things. There is such a sense of unity in this country, and I know it may take some time, but Japan will bounce back.
3/21/2011 02:00:43 am

Never have I envisioned such tragedy and never have I thought that I'd be worrying about about your safety in Japan in that magnitude. My prayers for you always include the whole country of Japan, especially the victims of this catastrophic event. Peace be with you!


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