When we first decided to move to Japan the language was the only thing we really worried about. We knew it would be a huge cultural change and there were going to be difficulties with communication but we never once considered the number of natural events that happen here compared to the UK and how much they would impact on our daily life.
Japan sits firmly on the ‘Ring of Fire’ containing 10% of the world’s volcanoes and experiencing around 1,500 earthquakes annually. That is not including Typhoon season which hits every year between August and November.
In our first six months, we experienced one big earthquake and two typhoons and interestingly they were a novelty but the longer we stay here the riskier it feels. I don’t know if that is because the novelty has worn off or if climate change is causing each event to feel bigger and stronger. Just this year alone, Chiba has been hit by two big typhoons in less than a month, one of which was Typhoon Hagibis, the largest Tokyo has seen since 1958.
The waiting for Hagibis to hit was actually worse than the typhoon itself, especially in our location, with all the terrifying ‘important notices’ and news updates. The night before we were filling all the empty bottles in the apartment (including wine bottles) with water in case it was shut off like it did in many parts of Chiba after Typhoon Faxai. We even filled the bath half full just as a precaution.
We brought everything in off our balcony and checked our earthquake kits incase we needed to evacuate. A colleague had sent to our group messaging system a list in English of all the evacuation points in the local area. Ours was the elementary school just opposite.
Earthquake kits are expected when you live in Japan. We all have one with everything you should need in case of an emergency. There is no definitive list (that we’ve found) so we have pretty much guessed, assuming we would need provisions for at least 2days. In ours we have packed enough food that doesn’t need to be cooked. A change of clothes which we swap around depending on the season. A blanket, an emergency blanket, 2 x 1 litre bottles of water, a wind up torch and a small first aid kit. We keep our passports together with an envelope of money in a safe place which we can just grab on the way out.
We stayed in all day Saturday waiting for the ‘super typhoon’ to hit. We woke up to messages from colleagues experiencing power cuts and water cut offs well before Hagibis was due to arrive. Luckily it was only for minutes. Around 6pm, it still hadn’t hit but the rain was getting heavier. Then sometime after 6pm a sudden jolt and shaking indicated we were having an earthquake. 5.7 out 7 on the Japanese scale and for a brief moment I panicked. This was the worst time for an earthquake. This was not the time to potentially evacuate when we were all being advised to stay indoors and at the same time being shown devastating photos of Hagibis’ damage in the news.
But like all other earthquakes we’ve experienced so far, within seconds it eased off and we were left with a huge sigh of relief whilst gently swaying with the building as it’s designed to do in the aftermath.
I sat there in my apartment wondering what the two new teachers who started in August must be thinking. I was nervous but calm after experiencing countless earthquakes and typhoons over the past 5years. I knew that my sixth floor apartment in a new building was the safest place to be incase of flooding with its earthquake prevention structures but even I was worried about the impending Hagibis. How must they have felt with no idea of what was coming? Would they find it a novelty like I once did?
Honestly, I feel like the longer I’m in Japan, the more I’m playing Russian Roulette with Mother Nature. I feel like with each earthquake shake or typhoon hit, my luck reduces a bit until eventually an event like the 2011 earthquake will occur. I work with colleagues who worked that day and I’ve heard their stories. I’m reminded every time we do our earthquake and tsunami drills of the risks and the terrifying amount of responsibility I’m taking on every time I go to work. The trust my children and their parents are putting in me to make the right decision if the time comes. Most days I don’t think about it but some days it can be all too much.
When it is our time to leave Japan, of course I will leave with the amazing memories of our experiences and the friends we have made. I will also leave embarrassed by my lack of Japanese comprehension and a frustration of how communication is still a daily battle but most of all I will secretly leave with a sense of relief that my time in Japan was unscathed. That Mother Nature gave me glimpses of her power but allowed me to remain unharmed with interesting stories to tell in the future as my reward.
For anyone hoping to visit Japan don’t let this post put you off. Of all the family and friends who have visited us (and there have been many) only one experienced an earthquake and only one was visiting during a typhoon- it didn’t even stop them visiting Disneyland that day! But hopefully this post will give those friends and family at home an insight into the natural events we experience here in Japan that would never be apart of life in the UK. How even though we have Brexit and other issues of our own in Britain, living with the constant threat of potential natural disasters is not one of them.
Sometimes it takes moving to the other side of the world, to realize how lucky we really are.