Wasabi February-Mar 2019 (Volume 1, Issue 6) | Japanese Culture & Island Life

Page 34

TALES FROM JAPAN “This is bad. This is very, very bad,” I thought to myself as the image of the mushroom cloud from the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant played repeatedly on the television. “Close the windows—the doors!” my vice principle said in a firm but calm voice. Just then a powerful aftershock made the concrete walls appear as if they were wet cardboard in the wind, one of dozens since that morning. I sat at my desk with my hands clasped white, and in silence I thought, for the first time in my life, “I could die here.” Calm Before the Storm I had arrived in the town of Iwaki on the coast of Fukushima six months before, bubbly and ecstatic to be living my dream of being in Japan for the long term. The excitement was still sizzling in me, especially as I was finishing work that day. As I worked, I was quietly singing the Irish shanties I was supposed to perform that evening for a Saint Patrick’s Day party in town. I was looking forward to a fun-filled weekend with friends, green-colored beer, singing, and dancing. I was still whistling gleefully when my phone made a sound I had never heard it make before. It sounded like the alarms on spaceships in sci-fi television shows—a high pitched whine that crescendoed quickly and repeated itself. I looked over to my principal, the only other person in the room. “Earthquake?” I asked. He looked around while slowly standing up and said: “…yes?” For about eight more seconds, nothing happened. In the distance the sound of other earthquake alarms began to echo through the air. Then it began. The Earthquake It started slowly, with things rocking back and forth. After a few moments, my principal said, “This one’s long!” As if he uttered a curse, in a matter of seconds the slow roil sped up to a violent shake that

By Daniel Legare contacted my family to let them know I was alright, I distinctly remember saying to my friends, “Well, at least it can’t get any worse, right?”

literally tossed us to the ground. We ran outside to the school field, stumbling as the ground shifted below our feet. Unable to stand due to the shaking, I sat and watched as anything that once seemed solid shook and swayed as if made of rubber. Thick stone roofing shingles flew, glass shattered in places, and we could hear the sounds of transformers exploding in the distance and the screams of the children still inside the school. After what felt like an eternity, the rumbling slowly died down enough for the children and staff to be evacuated. Besides a few bumps and bruises, no one was hurt. I approached one of the teachers who was inside during the worst of it. “Does this happen often?” I asked naively. His face was ghost white, and he simply shook his head to say no, as if it could not be expressed into words. It was only after I returned home that the scope of what had just occurred settle in my bones. As other English teachers from the nearby area and I huddled around my television, we watched in silence as recordings of the tsunami first began to air on the news. “That’s just 15 minutes from here,” one colleague said. Once I had

Ghost Town I first heard of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant a day or so after the earthquake. There were whispers of complications, leaks, an explosion. At first I took it with a grain of salt; everyone was in a slight state of panic and fear, as aftershocks continued to rock our foundations and the possibility of more tsunamis was ever-present. I simply tried to focus on helping my friends and co-workers; I had just arrived in Japan, so I wasn’t going to leave that easily. However, many people didn’t take any chances. Gas stations ran dry within a day, and there were no train or bus services available. With everyone either gone or shuttered indoors amid rumors of clouds of radiation approaching, Iwaki became a ghost town. No Way Out When news of the third explosion at Daiichi spread through the airwaves and our worst fears were confirmed, it was already too late. There was no way out, not for the moment. So for the next week, 10-12 other English teachers and I huddled together in one small apartment, pooling our resources and taking turns to go out for supplies or water. At all times the television was on, as we hoped for some crumb of good news. It never came. Finally, after seven days, we got word of a bus that left twice a day for the Fukushima airport. The group of us headed to the station and got in line, braving the possibly irradiated air, and

About the Author Born in a small Canadian town, Daniel Legare has always had a taste for adventure. As a globe-trotter who loves to discover, he has lived in many countries such as Japan, New-Zealand, and India. He is currently working as a manager in an international Japanese kindergarten and is looking to move into writing and translation as a career.


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