So some of you may know, others may not, that the Blue Forest, where I live, is a part of the Tohoku Region of Japan. (Yes, it is actually a real place.)  Aomori (青森県) is its real name, ‘Ao’ 青 means ‘blue’, and ‘mori’ 森 means ‘forest’, thus the Blue Forest in English.

Aomori was one of the prefectures that became affected by the earthquake that hit in March of this year.  I happened to be living here when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck.  The earthquake was one of five of the most powerful earthquakes to occur since record keeping began. It claimed the lives of 15,480 people, about 6,000 were injured, and 3,600 were missing.  It was the most expensive natural disaster on record.  The earthquake shifted the Earth’s axis by 10 cm and sped up the Earth’s rotation by a few seconds.  

I was at work. The day was about to end and I was thinking of my plans for that weekend, when suddenly the building started to shake.  At first, I wasn’t greatly alarmed, since earthquakes are rather common in Japan and happen frequently throughout the year, I had become quite used to them.  However, suddenly this earthquake’s intensity magnified and the building began to move like liquid jello, swaying back and forth with ease. The Nihonjin (Japanese) senseis around me seemed to be astounded but most of them ran out of the staffroom to go check on their students.

It felt as though the earth was angry and was throwing a massive tantrum that none of us could escape.  I found myself at some point crouched under my desk, too stunned to even wonder if I was going to die.  Those thoughts came later, with the subsequent radiation disaster at Fukushima, frequent aftershocks, and tsunami warnings.

The earthquake continued for 5 minutes, I couldn’t believe how long it was, it felt as though it would never end. There was no one directly around me when the most intense part of the earthquake it. Japanese teachers on the other side of the staffroom kept yelling, “Ahh!  Sugoi!”  Sugoi means amazing or incredible- apparently, they also could not believe how long it was lasting either.  I heard glass breaking and items thrown around by the earthquake’s power. 

Finally, when the first tremor stopped, I emerged from under my desk. There were papers and computers everywhere, strewn all over the place in disarray.  The principal made everyone go to the gym for a head count and to give instructions.  Then 300 students poured out of wherever classroom they were in to go to the gym and then teachers lined up their classes and made them sit down in a very organized fashion.  The teachers convened briefly and the principal told the students to gather their items from their classrooms and return back to the gym.  The kids ran back to their classrooms, but as they were going there was a huge aftershock that made the building tremble.  Some students were screaming and frightened, but still bravely ran to their classes to get their things.  We were supposed to go back to the gym, but as the trembling continued, the principal ordered everyone to get outside.  We waited outside and the students then huddled together in freezing cold weather to wait for their parents to come.  There were still a few more aftershocks while we were waiting outside and we could see the building shake while parents came to pick up their kids. My supervisor asked me if I wanted to go back in the building after the trembles, I said no.  She asked me if I wanted to go home, I said no to that as well. One of the ALTs came to pick me up and we rounded up the other JETS in town to stick together for the new few days, we were without power and water. It snowed the next day.  Eventually, the Shinsetsu’s (my surrogate parents) came to get me and I stayed with them for that week.

The Monday after the earthquake, teachers came to school, so I came into work.  We cleaned the school together and classes resumed quickly after.  The next few days were very emotional and there were moments where my body would shake uncontrollably, my mind would try to make it stop, but it seemed that was the only way my body could cope with the situation.  We experienced many aftershocks, over 1000, and each time my heart would fly into my chest as the alarms on our cell phones would warn us, though eventually I got used to them.

I am a Christian, and my faith was the only real source of peace for me during that time.  I was reading the Bible and came across this Scripture, Psalm 57:1, “BE MERCIFUL and gracious to me, O God, be merciful and gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge and finds shelter and confidence in You; yes, in the shadow of Your wings will I take refuge and be confident until calamities and destructive storms are passed.”   Two days later a friend of my father’s sent me an email telling me God had given him this verse for me during his prayer time: Psalm 57:1.  I started to cry, because then I knew God was with me.  I know this whole experience made me stronger as a person. 

We are survivors but we do not take it lightly, we are grateful to be alive and continually pray and think about the people in Sendai and Fukushima who were affected much more than us.

The response of the Japanese government and American Military Base during that time was absolutely incredible.  If there is any group of people that could handle that mess, it was the Japanese.  They are such a resilient people, and I was very impressed with their endurance throughout the earthquake aftermath and their spirit to rebuild. 

There are times when I still cry privately, remembering that day and the lives that were lost, the families that were broken apart, and the people left homeless, but also I remember the many people from all over the world came to help us and Operation Tomodachi (Friend). Here is a video that depicts our gratitude to our friends all over the world that helped us during that time.

Minna-san Arigatou!