Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In the Wake of the Great Quake pt. III: Joyful Moments

There are times when something small, something you wouldn't even notice on a typical day, suddenly becomes a thing of great joy. I'm talking about things like:

  • The sound of a transistor radio. During that long afternoon and evening immediately after the quake, as we hunkered down in the sanctuary of our battered school campus, it was our only link to the outside world. That night, and for the next couple of days, my family stayed huddled around one for comfort as much as for information.
  • The sound of my daughter's cell phone ringing. For some time after the quake, regular phone service was down, and mobile phone service was jammed. A quick e-mail from a worried friend of my daughter was music to all my family's ears. It meant we were also able to call an extent.
  • The sound of the refrigerator coming on. It meant that our power had been restored on the third day after the quake.
  • The sound of the well pump. With our power back, we had the use of our backup water supply and no longer had to drive out to the water distribution points.
  • The sight of my regular home page opening. Fiber optic cable service was apparently never compromised. I was able to get on the internet almost as soon as we had our power back.
  • The sight of almost five dozen notifications on Facebook. Though I happily play a couple of network games via Facebook (down from a peak of six), I admit I'm often annoyed that my feed is largely limited to game-related messages. This time, however, the list was mainly messages of concern and support from people I know all over the world. It did a lot for my mental stability in anxious times, and I can't tell you how much I appreciated it.
  • The sight of the phone line LED lighting up. For some reason, even though I had internet access, the phone still stayed down for almost another entire day. I kept my eyes glued to that one darkened LED on the router and gave a shout when it finally came on. The first thing I did was call my family in Oregon and assure them we were all okay.
  • The sight of an open gas station. All the major refineries supplying our area had been knocked out if not taken out by the earthquake and tsunami. Moreover, a lot of roads were in poor condition, making it hard to transport any kind of cargo. Panic buying of gasoline quickly wiped out the supply. For some time after that, getting gas was a matter of catch if catch can. When the shortage first started, I was lucky enough to catch a smaller station whose owners I know just as it was closing down, and I was allowed ten liters (a little more than two and a half gallons). A few days later, I spotted a small, independent gas station open on my way home, got in line, waited for an hour and a half, and got twenty liters (a little more than five gallons). That was enough to keep me going for at least a week if I avoided unnecessary driving.
  • The sound of the toilet tank filling up. We were using buckets of recycled bath water to work our toilet (or going outside and feeding the trees). After filling the toilet tank from the bucket yet again and flushing it on the fifth day after the quake, I heard the tell-tale trickle of water flowing inside. I immediately dashed to the kitchen and tried the faucet. It hissed, it gurgled, it spat, and then it rewarded me with the music of flowing tap water. The city mains were back online.
  • Getting calls from relatives. Both my wife and I have always tended to find it a bit awkward talking on the phone with relatives on her father's side of the family (especially because, in my case at least, it can be difficult following their strong Tohoku dialect). However, we found ourselves eagerly welcoming the slightest word. We were especially happy when we finally heard news about the uncle and his family who live in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, a city which had been obliterated by a ten meter high tsunami less than half an hour after the quake. All of them were safe, including one who had been caught up in the tsunami and had survived by clinging to a floating log.
  • Seeing the faces of students. One week after the quake, we opened the school just long enough for students to come and get their things, which had remained in the classrooms till then. Some were unable to make it, but it was a welcome relief to see the ones that did.
  • Finding food on store shelves. Gasoline wasn't the only thing that became scarce. Panic buying and shortages of certain goods had led supermarkets and convenience stores to shorten their hours and ration some items. One week after the quake, I was happy to be able to go into a supermarket in Kashima after work and actually find meat, fish, and milk, all of which had become rare and precious. On the next day, it was announced that bread rationing had ended, and I was able to replace the one loaf (a lucky grab on my wife's part) that had helped sustain us during the previous week.
  • Seeing gas stations open for regular business. Today, two weeks after the quake, I drove by the biggest self-service gas station in my home area on my way to work...and was surprised to see that not only was it open, but there was no line, and people were pumping their own gas, i.e. no rationing. Last night I saw similar sights at most of the smaller gas stations along my regular route. This is a very important sign that things are returning to normal.
We're not fully recovered yet, and some areas are still in a very dire condition, but we're getting there!

Oh, and by the way: Ibaraki milk and vegetable produce has shown a trace of radioactive iodine contamination thanks to that wrecked nuclear plant up north, but you'd have to consume a ton of it for it to pose any health risk. In other words, IT'S NOT DANGEROUS!!!!!

Have a nice day!


  • Not only were you happy to hear all the concerns from your family and friends we were all very happy to hear that you and your family were OK. Glad things are getting back to normal for you. Makes you realize how precious life is. Hugs to all of you and stay safe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:10 PM  

  • So happy for you and your family. Thanks for the update.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 7:46 PM  

  • I am glad things are getting slightly less abnormal. Hang in there.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:54 AM  

  • Hang in there! I'm so relieved that things are getting a little more normal in your area. I think about your family every day and I hope things just keep getting better for you.

    By Blogger Kami, at 11:06 AM  

  • Slowly inching back to normalcy. Thanks for this update, MM, and the reminder of the small things in life that are so easily overlooked.

    I have a friend whose answer to problems like running out of some household product was, "They have it at the store." Well, how we take it for granted!

    Thanks for the update.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:57 AM  

  • I'm glad to have rediscovered your Blog, Kevin. I'll be reading through all of your recent chronicles, but this one moved me and I wanted to drop in a note. I'm now living in Utah and the major population centers here actually lie over a major fault line that is way overdue for a quake. The recent tragedy in Japan has made us more aware of the kind of things we might face, and taking what we have for granted is something I will be actively working to avoid. Thanks for informing us, and I'm looking forward to catching up with you in the near future.

    By Blogger Andy Wheeler, at 8:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home