At 6 am on Tuesday morning, I was woken from a dead sleep by the shaking of an earthquake. I have experienced dozens of small earthquakes since moving to Tokyo, but this was the strongest one yet, strong enough to both wake me and genuinely scare me. The shaking inside my apartment was intense, and it kept… on… going, for over a minute. I was terrified, and realized that I had no idea how I should react.
Thankfully, the shaking stopped after a minute. I quickly opened my earthquake alert app, Yurekuru Call, and discovered it that was a 7.4 magnitude quake, which hit off the coast of Fukushima. It was a powerful quake to be felt so strongly in Tokyo, nearly 300 kilometers away. There were evacuations in Fukushima, and a tsunami warning was put in place, but thankfully there was no major damage. There were minor injuries and no deaths. And in my neighborhood, there was no damage at all. Life went on as normal. I got up and went to work and had a busy day teaching. I asked my students if they were sared by the earthquake and they said, “not really.” They are used to it.
But the experience left a strong impression on me. It was scary. It was a literal wake up call, that I need to actually start getting prepared in case of a serious earthquake.
In that moment when my apartment just kept shaking, and I didn’t know if it was going to stop, or if things were about to get really bad, I realized I actually have no idea what to do in an earthquake. I grew up in New Mexico, where there are no earthquakes, and I had never felt one before coming to Tokyo. Beyond the short session on disaster preparedness at orientation, I had basically zero experience with earthquakes. I was given a huge, textbook sized guide on disaster preparedness, but I had never bothered to actually read it. While the idea of earthquakes certainty scared me, the fear of had never felt tangible, at least until now.
The good news is that because Japan is so prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, it is a country better prepared than any other for natural disasters. Especially since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, the government has taken major measures to prepare for earthquakes. Japan has stringent building code regulations to make buildings earthquake proof. Immediately after an earthquake strikes, all TV and radio stations switch automatically to official earthquake coverage. September 1st is National Disaster Prevention Day. Schools in Japan have regular earthquake drills. At my school, all teachers have a hardhat, and all students have head protection pillows attached to their chairs.
So, Japan is ready for earthquakes, and now it’s my turn to get ready. This week I sat down and actually started reading my disaster preparedness guide. I have started putting together a “go-bag,” bought extra food and water, and put a flashlight by my bed. I figured out where my local evacuation center is. I feel better, but still a little uneasy. Mostly, I just feel thankful that the earthquake was not worse. It was the wake up call I needed, and it made me so appreciative for the life I am living. And as I’m writing this, it is Thanksgiving (though I will not be eating turkey tonight). So on this day, I give thanks for how amazingly prepared Japan is, for my little earthquake-proof apartment, and for my personal health and saftey. It’s a profound gratitude.
Maybe sometimes life needs to shake you up a little to make you really appreciate it.