I came to live in Japan seeking adventure and a few years filled with excitement – I wasn’t quite bargaining on the range of experiences I have had this year happening all in the space of 8 months.
I’ve really experienced some of the extremes of Japan this year – so I’m going to share some of what has been thrown at me!
August 2015 – Major Typhoon!
A couple of weeks after I arrived in Japan, I was beginning to feel pretty settled and happy (despite the rotten muggy weather and battling the humidity and my hair frizz.) Then one day, my JTE approached me:
“Sensei, did you know a very big typhoon is coming tomorrow?”
“Really?! What does that mean – will it be dangerous?”
“Oh yes! All the teachers are taking a day of holiday – I think you should too, to be safe.”
Errrrgh! Only a few weeks in and already using holiday – just to avoid some rain! At first, I thought nah, it’ll be okay. A bit of heavy rain, I can manage that. I didn’t take any leave and much to everyone’s shock and concern told them I’d be in tomorrow.
Then 3am happened – the wind began shaking the windows violently, the rain smacked against the glass with a great force. It was so loud and violent it woke me up – and kept me up until it was time to get ready for work! And it didn’t stop. So it turns out – a typhoon really isn’t just bad rain. It is extremely strong, dangerous gale force winds and rain that is painful. It was far too unsafe for me to leave the apartment – so I called into work, took the day off (I was given special leave after – yay!) and sat in my pajamas, praying nothing would leak or be seriously damaged.
It eventually let up around 1pm, and luckily the only damage I had was that my bike was blown over. But the area had some trees knocked down and things like TV antennas were broken.
But yeah – my very first month in Japan provided me with my first ever typhoon and I won’t be taking them lightly from now on!
What I learned: If you’re told a typhoon is coming – it is coming. Put away anything movable from outside, bring in your washing and secure anything loose. And keep warm and tucked away!
January 2016 – Heavy snow!
We had a pretty bitter winter in Japan this year. It was really unexpected. Coming to Kyushu I was advised to not worry so much about winter clothes as the weather, even in the coldest periods, wasn’t that bad.
Turns out I clearly arrived in a freak year as in mid-January, we had an amazingly heavy snowfall that happened overnight. At first, it was really pretty and exciting. I thought, I can make so many snowmen, and arrange a snowball fight.. and then it just stayed cold. Bitterly, bitterly cold in my poorly insulated old apartment.
The only downside to living in a fairly rural area is when the transport systems are down – they are DOWN. The bus I take to work was completely suspended for the WHOLE day, and I waited for 3 hours losing my toes just in case it began again. I never did make it into work, and unfortunately this time I did lose a day of paid leave.. but it cleared up enough the next day so that I could make it into work.
But the freak cold spell – completely unexpected. I’m glad I was able to stock up on warmer winter wear in my local store, and all my family Christmas gifts were perfect to get me through the cold spell. I’m hoping this year’s winter will be much more mild!
What I learned: Snow will not stop any teacher from making it into work. Even if they are hours late from walking (!!!) or take a group taxi. Next time – I’ll ask in advance to taxi share.
April 2016 – Earthquake
I’m sure by now everyone has heard about the magnitude 7 earthquake in Kumamoto last night. My thoughts are truly with everyone who were right in the midst of it, and to those who are in shelters and without homes right now. I am at work today researching my options of how I can best help – based on how I felt last night, I am hoping to bring some relief to those who had it even worse than me.
This was actually the first ever earthquake I have felt since coming to Japan. We had a false alarm in November last year which spooked me (I hate the noise of the Early Warning System!) – but after that I forgot about the worry. Again, I heard Kyushu was a pretty quiet island for earthquakes..
I was in the middle of drying my hair when my light began flickering and I thought it was pretty odd.. then suddenly my entire room began shaking! And low and behold, “WAH WAH WAH! JISHIN JISHIN DESU!” began to shout from my phone and it sank in rather too late that it was indeed an earthquake that caused the impromptu twerking party.
That said – nothing in my apartment fell down or suffered damage! Actually, everything has been left as I put it before it happened.. so where we were, it felt worse than it actually was. But in Kumamoto, things are not good.
Kumamoto was hit by a level 6 quake on the Shindo scale (the Japanese measurement system which gauges severity by the amount of shaking). Some areas were actually said to be hit by a 7, and even as high as a 9 in one place – equivalent to the Tohoku quakes. I live about a couple of hours away from Kumamoto by train so we initially felt a level 4 at 9.28pm.
After it stopped and I gathered my thoughts together I went into alert mode – got appropriately dressed, turned off gas, went to a more secure room. As it turns out – Kumamoto was hit a further 2 times by high level quakes and constantly throughout the night by after-shocks. It’s actually still going on now, which is apparently normal for a quake like this.. but still. Pretty relentless.
I had never experienced an earthquake before this – so in all honesty I was pretty spooked and didn’t react in a collected way at first. But when I got my head together, I spent the rest of my night with my neighbour watching anime and trying to ignore the quakes. For us it was mentally draining for it to be so constant – you can’t relax while anticipating the next one or the next alarm. I can’t IMAGINE how Kumamoto people are feeling right now.
But Japan is an amazingly prepared country. I’m in awe at how this could have been much, much worse – but everyone is handling it very well. It’s very inspiring!
What I learned: Keep cool, calm and collected. Japan seems to live by “Keep calm and carry on” as much as the UK does!
Advice!! If you’re coming to Japan to live or for a visit, I recommend downloading the Yurekuru Call app. It is a free Early Warning System service which operates in English – so you can be up to date!
So.. that’s pretty much a list of the things that have happened in the rather eventful 8 months that I have been here. I feel like if I can manage all of this, I can manage just about anything!
Overall what I have taken from all these experiences is that Japan is an amazing country, full of people who take everything in their stride, look out for each other and are so prepared for any eventuality. I have only been cared for since arriving here through every good time, and every challenge – and I have definitely had way more good days than difficult moments like these. But all of this has helped me become a little more mature, and a lot more prepared for my everyday life!
But for now – time to get some sleep! It has been an eventful day.