Sunday, March 13, 2011

Experiencing the earthquake from Nagoya

When I came to Japan, I had anticipated experiencing an earthquake. It's something one should expect when planning a long term stay in one of the earth's most seismically active countries.

Despite expectations, it wasn't until several months into my stay that I first became aware of some tremors early one morning. It was mild, so I was excited to be able to say I had experienced it. Things were quiet for several weeks, and then the disaster in Christchurch, New Zealand occurred. It immediately brought about recollections of how unexpected and disastrous earthquakes can be.

A couple of weeks back I awoke in the early morning to a couple tremors, but I was much more uneasy about it and did not sleep well for several says following. My fear of vulnerability gripped me, convincing me that when I am most vulnerable and helpless is the time I am asleep.

Things calmed again, and life resumed its regular pace. People around me were unfazed.

Friday afternoon came. I finished my assignment early and left class to head to the campus computer lab. No sooner had I sat down and turned the computer one when I felt a tension in my neck. My body seemed to be pulsing, much as if I had sprinted up some flights of stairs, but a bit more pronounced than I was used to. My first thought was that something was wrong with me. I let my neck roll with the tug I felt, but there was a momentum that wouldn't have allowed the roll to stop involuntarily.

I peered up over my computer screen to see a girl to the front of the lab peering wide-eyed back at the rest of the lab. The standing speaker behind her was swaying lazily. The 15 or so students in the lab all looked concernedly around at each other as the floor beneath us seemed to lose stability. The window blinds swayed inward and back into the glass pane. One girl made the move to duck under the desk, while I opted to walk outside.

From the strange sense of instability until full realization of what was occurring about 20 seconds had elapsed. By 40 seconds in, I opted to make the move to go outside. The swaying of the six story concrete building lasted for a good minute, and by the time I had moved outside everything had calmed, save for the eerie atmosphere and silent tension among onlookers. Alexa had been outside the buildings and said the swaying was quite noticeable. Another friend, Jasmine had been walking to the train station when she felt like she had a dizzy spell and couldn't figure out why she couldn't walk straight.

When I resumed my spot in the lab, I immediately checked for updates. My go-to source throughout the past few days has been Twitter of all things. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) feeds earthquake updates through @earthquake_jp. The first update I came across listed a magnitude 7.9 quake off of the shore by Iwate-ken. Shortly following, a manual message from the account popped up, unusual because it usually runs off a feed. The message explained that the JMA servers had not been able to fully process the information, and that another earthquake had occurred in Hyogo to the south, magnitude 4.5.

I was unsure of which earthquake Nagoya would have caught the crossfire from, since Hyogo is much closer than Sendai. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicated that it was actually magnitude 8.8, many times stronger than a 7.9 (and it now stands at a 9.0 classification following further analysis). The news highlighted the length of the fault off the east coast of Japan, and it became quite clear that we had felt the quake from the east.

Continuing to observe the hourly quakes on both sides of the island in addition to the nuclear plant situation is considerably concerning. Definitely plenty enough to retrigger thoughts on existentialism and how quickly everything one knows can disappear.

Please consider contributing a little to charity to help Japan rebuild the towns and livelihoods of the people affected by this disaster.

Canadian Red Cross

American Red Cross

Doctors without Borders

The Salvation Army


Global Living



Canada: Text REDCROSS to 30333 to donate $10
USA: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10
Ireland: Text REDCROSS to 57500 to donate €5

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