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Mar. 14th, 2011

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The computer is the only electronic device I've got on at the moment. We've been kindly asked to save electricity for those who need it more, and so I'm sitting here in late afternoon light, in several layers, because I have turned off my heater.

I woke up to an earthquake warning on my phone, and barely a minute later, my house rocked gently, my glasses clinking together in the shelves in my kitchen unit.

I'm going to have to bike into school tomorrow, probably, because I doubt the trains will be running. There won't be any students, but the staff is still expected to come in, and while I could theoretically take some time off, I know the Japanese staff will all be there.

It's a strange, surreal existence, here in Saitama. We are so far removed from the events that the biggest impact will be the rolling blackouts and the lack of train service. And of course the inability to stay away from the news. Statistically speaking, I know some of my colleagues are probably grieving and anxious, but I know they're all going to be there tomorrow, because that is how this country works.

As we get more reports of death and devastation, the reports of incredible selflessness, unbelievable rescues and brilliant reunions have started trickling in, too. This country is, and has always been, incredibly community-minded. Even in Tokyo, where the devastation was minimal, people still experienced acts of kindness that would bring tears to anyone's eyes. There's a story on twitter about someone who couldn't make it home due to train stoppage, and was given cardboard to keep them warm by the same homeless people most Tokyoites pass without second thought every day.

What strikes a foreign guest like me the most is the unutterable dignity of the situation. There is no panic, there are no mobs, there are no unmanageable crowds. People may be buying things for the worst possible situation, but nobody is taking more than exactly what they need. I have been called by my coworkers to make sure I'm up on what's going on, and I have been stopped on the street by the people I nod at every morning, asking me if I'm okay or if I need any help to get through this.

Everyone is grieving, and anxious about the disaster we may still be facing. But the tenor of people's conversations doesn't seem somber; they seem determined - as if every disaster looming on the horizon is just another obstacle to traverse.

When the earthquake struck on Friday, I was in the gym. I didn't immediately realize what was happening; I thought someone was trying to open the door I was sticking posters to from the other side. And then the ceiling started creaking. I walked over to the other doors, which were open, snagging a frozen coworker along the way, and we stood under the doors, until everyone realized that this wasn't just a tremor. The sixth graders had been practicing for their graduation ceremony in the gym, and were crouched down in the middle of the room, and as the shaking intensified, we started hearing whimpers and screams of panic. "Out," one of my coworkers finally shouted, making the decision for all of us. I darted outside and set myself up at the edge of the courtyard, making sure the students stayed away from the windows as they ran for the playground. When everybody was out of the gym, we got over to the grounds to settle the students down, the earth still bucking and weaving around us, making our gait a little unsteady.

"Is it just my knees shaking, or are we still going?" I asked a coworker on the down low once the students were sitting down, and more people were evacuating the building in so orderly a fashion you'd have thought this was a drill.

"We're still going," he said, softly. "Look at the trees." They were swaying, back and forth, like they were being battered by strong winds.

We eventually settled the students back into the gym and made rounds of the school. Nothing was broken, nothing even really out of place. As we passed a second grade classroom, one of the second grade Japanese teachers asked us to help setting up some loose panels - what she had been doing before the first quake struck. In the middle of trying to figure out why the panels wouldn't cooperate, the biggest aftershock struck. We learned later that it was 7.4 on the Richter scale. My coworker cowered on the ground and I had to dart back in and tug her to the door - she told me later that she hadn't ever felt anything like the first tremor.

Once the shaking subsided, the intercom went, calling all of us to the office. Train services were suspended, and we did nothing for the rest of the afternoon except watch the news and wait to figure out what to do.

Thirty students couldn't make it home that night and slept at school with some of the teachers. To give you an idea of the level of preparedness in this country for this sort of thing, they did not have to make do with their jackets and some hastily procured blankets. In the event of a natural catastrophe, like this, the school has access to sleeping bags for every single student.

I've been home since then, mostly glued to the news services. The situation in Fukushima is frightening, particularly because nuclear reactors are an unknown quantity to me. However, the news reporting from Japan is quite different from the sensationalist stuff that seems to be reported elsewhere, and so I've banished the BBC forever from my reading list. (Not to mention CNN, what's with the Godzilla jokes?)

Tomorrow it's business as usual for this part of the country. I have no inkling what sort of thing we'll be supposed to do, but I imagine there will be long meetings in Japanese.

I am expecting a rolling blackout to start any minute now, so I suppose I better post this and turn the computer off - or try to write, since the internet won't be there to distract me.

For those of you with the funds... [livejournal.com profile] help_japan has an auction up with many nice things on offer. Please consider it.

Thank you for all the well wishes and all the concern. I'm touched so many people thought of me.

Stay safe.



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