Friday, March 11th, 2011, 2:47 in the afternoon, Kai city, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.
I was working in Shikishima kindergarten, and was taking a break in the bathroom, what a great place to be when a giant earathquake hits(actually if you are inside, a bathroom or a closet, any sort of small room truly is considered a safe place to be. The ground started shaking quite massively, and I truly didn't even notice. I just suddenly felt sick, like everything was moving around me, and I thought that was just it. I heard the speakers outside telling everyone to go out, but I wasn't able to move, and the movements of the ground got more and more intense, I had realized by then that this was a very large earthquake.
Early in the day, I had some of the kids sitting in my lap, and played "earthquake" by shaking them about. My first and last time doing such a thing, and it felt like a coincidence I didn't really want to think about.
After the first quake ended, everyone was gathered outside. The kids themselves didn't grasp what was happening. We had a giant tarp that we used for making like a fence so that the kids couldn't run out. We all held the tarp, and just waited outside.
A Japanese kindergarten is for kids ages 3-6, so there are many kids, and many classrooms. The building is made so that all classrooms are facing the playground, there is no indoor hallway to run through. The playground is surrounded by the school buildings, which are all one floor high, or if it is a preschool/kindergarten, then two floors high. Since the buildings are low, being in the center of the playground is the safest place to be during an earthquake.
It was freezing cold outside, and none of us had grabbed our jackets, and we really wanted to go inside, but after an earthquake, the chances of another are increased drastically, so we just stood outside. After about 5 minutes, our school handyman had grabbed his HAM radio, and was listening to the news reports. It was then that we found out that Miyagi prefecture was the epicenter, not us. He said there it was a Japanese sca le 7 earthquake(the highest in the Japanese measurement system), and at least one reporting of a truck flipped over, but that was all we knew. This was before the tsunamis began to hit.
After a few more minutes, the next earthquake hit, and it was far scarier than the first, for me. Standing outside, we could see the buildings around shaking, but even more terrifying was the swing set. The oscillations at first were slow, but gradually building... it was the swing set itself moving so prefusely while the swings themselves had been idle. It created a motion of the swings moving not back and forth, but side to side, and half a minute into the second quake, the were swinging about a foot and a half in either direction, and had began shaking up and down. Knowing that those shakings were the earth moving and not the swings themselves, that sight was the biggest realization of what was happening. I could imagine the ground beneath me splitting and all of us just dying right there and then. The kids had no idea that this was abnormal, and they were all laughing and enjoying it as if it were an amusement park ride, making the situation very surreal.
I constantly felt like the ground was moving, but everyone around me was denying it. Yamanashi is about 300 kilometers away from the epicenter, so it's hard to say what the truth is. The reports on the Japanese Meteorological website lead me to believe that it was still shaking quite a lot.
About 45 minutes after the quake, all the kids had gone home, and all of us teachers couldn't help but go to the TV. Upon turning it on, came the first seens on the tsunami. We watched live as the water rushed through the towns with cars driving as fast as they could racing to get away, and harbors with water rising above the decks and boats being washed all through the cities. They told us it was live, but it didn't sink in.
That day, I was scared as the quakes hit, but aside from that, nothing at all felt like reality. I literally did not believe it was happening, even watching it on TV. By 4:30, it was time to leave work. I had biked there, and while my coworkers offered to drive me home, I decided I wanted my bike with me, so took the half an hour bike ride home. It's a scary stretch between the kindergarten, and where I lived. Half an hour biking through very steep hills with no sidewalk to bike on, often times within a very close distance of cars. I made it home, and called my folk back in America, and turned on the tv. That was just the beginning of it all.
The next few days, TV was nothing but emergency news on every single channel. The radiation made me scared to go outside, and the quakes were still happening.
Truth be told, I wanted to just leave right then and there. But I had another terrible crisis occurring. My company had taken my passport a month earlier to be extended, and had not yet returned it yet, despite the fact that my visa had expired the day before. These terrible dispatch companies think it's ok to take as much money from their employees as possible, and hold control over their lives with their passports. Every day I called, and I tried to get my passport, but nothing could be done at that point. I was left there in Japan without my passport with an expired visa, wanting to leave, for a week.
Every day I went to work. A friend and coworker of mine had a son who happened to be a nuclear engineer. He was recruited immidiately to work over in Fukushima, after the disaster started. As the reports came in, and you could see the expression on her face as she was breaking. Everyone around was hurting, I could see it in their faces and there actions, and it was breaking me too. There were earthquakes every day、explosions at the nuclear power plant, I was terrified to go outside, and there was nothing that I could do.
I know certainly there are so many people that had much worse experiences than me. Many people lost their lives, their families, their houses, their towns and homes. I could feel the pain of the world around me. For in my own pain, I have dealt with much in my lifetime. Dying multiple times, a heart attack and open heart surgery, the testing that went along with that... but there is a very big difference between an internal suffering and external. The environment shook the core of me in a way I couldn't imagine. I've never been so terrifed of the world around me before, and I hated the way it made me feel.
After one week, Celes and I left Japan to go back to the United States, unsure if we would stay there, move on, or return to Japan. On the one hand, it felt nice to be away from the constant threat of disaster, and surrounded by loving friends. But on the other hand, the lands of the States had become so alien. After being away for even just a year and a half, our lives and thoughts had changed so much from the people around us. Everyone was happy that we were back, and figured we'd be staying automatically. Our minds were focused on Japan, our friends, the people, and our future from there. We stayed in the United States for two weeks, and enjoyed it the best we could, but our hearts had already decided that we could only return to Japan.
It has been one year since this all began. The earthquake at its' epicenter was hundreds of kilometers away, and I was completely inland. Yet the feeling of disaster and panic surrounding me scared me to a point that took a long time of recovery. It changed the core of me, how I felt the impending doom any second. We knew there could be, and would be more earthquakes. The world inside of me was crumbling from the outside in.
Everyone here has done nothing but their absolute best to work with the situation. I cannot help but think of the events of this past year leading up to now. Honestly, it ended and began chapters of my life in a very difficult way. For many others it was much more difficult, and I hold nothing but the highest praise for those people.
I hope that from here on out, no matter how hopeless any situation may seem, we understand that the best we can do in any situation is always simply the best that we can do. In this world, the toughest decision we face, is a decision itself. Never let anyone dictate it for you, because it is only up to you how to live happily. I can't say I don't think about how I returned to America, but it was very necessary for the point that I was at. It is because of that return, that I realized how much Japan truly means to me, and how in the end, I couldn't let it go, even if it meant fighting with the atmosphere around me. Now we have come so far, I hold nothing but the highest respect for the way the people of this country have moved forward, and continue to do so.