Strong Swaying

Okay, I confess: I am not a very devout blogger. I haven’t touched this in 7 months, which means I have about 5 months of backlogged adventures that may or may not remain untold (some of the recent ones may still make it in, though, in one epic, hopefully upcoming blogging marathon to be held at a later date). Of all the adventures so far (for a short list: Osaka, Kobe twice, Nara Park any number of times, Tokyo, Nagoya [a solo adventure], Kyoto several times, bike shopping, a potentially broken toe)–as an aside, I navigate these purely with a six-month-old’s Japanese vocabulary (and no smart phone, iPhone, or other connection to Google Map unless accompanied by a carrier), I have for the most part gone looking for the adventure. Yes, even the broken toe part.

But sometimes, the adventure finds you when you least expect it.

There I was at 5:38 on a Saturday morning. I was minding my own business and placidly awaiting the beginning of my welcome Saturday chaos (I often teach 8 classes on Saturday, which is fun and rewarding but at the same time admittedly tiring) when suddenly–we all know where this is going, right?

When suddenly, it happened.

At the aforementioned time, an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter Scale occurred in Hyogo Prefecture. I know because the internet told me so. Hyogo is separated from Nara prefecture by Osaka prefecture. The distance between Awaji Island (the site of the earthquake) and Nara city is about 82 miles by the shortest driving route. A distance calculator says that there are about 78 miles between the site of the earthquake and Nara City. Facts aside, I’m stunned that I could feel anything happening that far away.

For those of you who have experienced an earthquake before–perhaps you live on the San Andreas Fault in America–you are not a stranger to the feeling I am about to describe. For those of you who come from a place where tectonic activity and events seldom if EVER interfere with your daily life–in other words, if like me, you are from Michigan–then what I am about to describe will probably not make sense, but I will do my best to capture my feelings at the moment so those of you traveling in Japan will understand.

Like any normal human being, I was sleeping when it happened. I don’t have any sort of alert system on my phone, so I woke up to the single strangest sensation I have ever felt. The sound of the sliding closet doors rattling was what did it. Once I jolted into full consciousness, I became aware that my entire apartment is moving. It felt sort of like a boat rocking, only without that kind of sickly feeling you get in your stomach on a day with strong waves. The best phrase I can coin is “strong swaying” (which is a bit of an oxymoron because it felt a little jerky and “sway” possesses such a calm image).  Along with this strange new sensation came a lingering wave of panic. So… this is an earthquake? I thought. Will the building cave in around me? How strong is this on the Richter Scale? It has to be at least a four… It’s a bit odd, but I do have complex thoughts like this just after waking up, especially since I am anything but a morning person. I briefly contemplated my safety. Well… I could go stand in the doorway between my kitchen and bedroom… (as an aside, I never once considered the fact that I was on the second floor of my apartment building). I only consider this option for a moment before thinking, …but honestly, I can’t be bothered. I’m too tired. I’ll just lay here until it stops. It did stop after about a minute or two. Unlike the sudden onset (or perhaps I only think it’s a sudden onset because I woke up in the middle of it), it tapered off with nothing more than one last hiccup. After fifteen minutes, I feel back asleep and proceeded to have a chain of nonsensical dreams about people at work telling me it wasn’t real, about experiencing aftershocks more crushing than the original, about people dying and about it being an 8.2 on the Richter Scale… but when the alarm rang, although I was fatigued from having my REMs disrupted for the third Saturday in a row (last week, it was my own fault–I really do worry too much about my job sometimes, and for no reason at all), I got up and taught my eight classes and told everyone about the thoughts going through my head at the time. All of this makes the experience of Sologaijin’s first ever earthquake.

And here is the beauty of the experience.

It’s so ironic that I spend every moment of my day worrying about my teaching performance, my sanity, and my overall state of well-being, but in moments of pure chaos, I tend to react with a completely level head. I’ve been in situations like this before, only with tornadoes and waterspouts in the twos and threes, and I was totally calm until I cut my foot open in the bathroom. It’s so funny that I spend moments where nothing is wrong wondering and worrying about getting fired, about my future career path, and about getting ill or dying, but in the face of a potentially deadly situation, I shrug any risk of death off and throw the covers back over my head.  The everyday fazes me more than the extraordinary. And that sort of irony, that sort of complacency, is just the sort of damnably laughable thing about the inside of my head.

It’s also just the sort of thing I could only really come to learn and appreciate about myself by moving 7,000 miles from home and taking a job in a country where I don’t speak the language. So, for anyone planning to follow in my footsteps, for anyone looking for an adventure, be prepared to learn new things about yourself, about what you can endure and what you can’t, about you being your own worst enemy at times. Be prepared to appreciate–and even miss–what you left behind. Be prepared to take things for granted. But more than anything, expect the unexpected, and after the unexpected lulls to stillness once more, stand still with it. You can savor and enjoy after the world around you and the world inside you remembers to start moving again.

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