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The abandoned school
Monday, 25 April 2011
Other earthquake and tsunami effects...
... that I am hearing about as I go along. Even in these regions, far from where it all happened, life has incorporated the effects of the tsunami. These are some of the stories which my friends told me during the past few days about how the crisis has affected them personally.
An elderly friend of mine, living north of Tokyo in the mountains and a fair distance from the affected area, let me know soon after the earthquake that she was fine. The only effect was that her daughter, who had arrived for a visit from her southern home, was unable to travel back when her time came, as the railway network had been disrupted. The local line has meanwhile been restored and, in a letter, she very much encouraged me to come and visit. But alas, she found it hard to cope with the constant aftershocks, grew very tired from lack of sleep and decided to travel south with her daughter to stay there for a while. I am still hoping to visit her, albeit far from her home.
There was no damage in Tokyo itself. My friend living there had some difficulty walking during the earthquake, as the ground under his feet swayed from side to side like a ship rolling in a storm -- his books fell off their shelves but there was no other damage.
Another friend, a hospital doctor working south of Tokyo, hardly felt the earthquake as such. In the weeks that followed, some medicines and catheters became scarce -- these are normally supplied from the affected areas, and it took a while to find replacements for them. Some of his colleagues left the hospital for a few months to help the survivors in their refuges.
My Osaka friends love the organic rice they buy from a small producer. They recently received their last delivery from him, with a warning that there might not be another one for a while. One of the aftershocks of the earthquake shook up his paddy fields, and if these are now no longer watertight, the next crop will be small.
We went shopping with these same friends and their two young sons, buying pencils, writing sets and erasers, which they took to school this morning, as did every other child in the school. All these treasures are to be sent to a refuge, where the children are finally resuming their studies. The Osaka children, whose lives continue pretty untouched by the event, are still strling to understand what “losing everything” means for a child of their age, in a different part of Japan...
The football game yesterday was played in an abandoned school -- a fine old building of the 1950s or thereabouts, roomy and sturdy, with a lovely garden and a large sports field (where the football games took place). The building (now abandoned because of population movements, which have meant that the number of children in the catchment area has shrunk) is fenced off but entirely intact. Not the slightest damage, and no vandalism of any kind. I asked what might happen to it. It turns out that abandoned schools like this one can easily be converted to refuges at times of crisis. They are solidly built and can withstand most earthquakes. In the north of the country, several such schools have been revived and are now being used to house numerous families following the earthquake and tsunami.
JR Shikoku one-man train
After this, Machiko went home and we returned to my teacher's house for the evening, tired from our day out, and we turned in early, so we could get an early start the next day. She, her brother, and their mother all drove me to Sendai Airport, where I caught my flight back to Osaka. (The backpack fell open again and I nearly lost my mp3 player and headphones on the bus to the bus station. Don't you love how that backpack targeted my most valuable items?)
I then proceeded to be stared at for an hour straight by the woman next to me on the highway bus back to Tokushima. I'm not at all joking. (I got on the bus and she had her bag in my seat, so I politely told her, "excuse me..." and she gave me this startled, slightly horrified look, and started staring at me as soon as I sat down.) It was the most ridiculous, infuriating experience, and by the end I just wanted to scream at her that I'm a human too! I have feelings! Stop treating me like a strange freak just because I'm not Japanese! When we were getting off the bus, I stood up to get stuff from the overhead shelf, and my backpack fell over and bumped into her, and I apologized in Japanese, and she recoiled from me. AAAAGH.
As a result, I was in such a horrible mood as I walked through Tokushima Station...but right after I boarded the elevator to go up to TOPIA to check my e-mail before catching a train out west to Ikeda, I heard someone say, "Sensei, sayounara!" It was Itami-sensei, a really sweet teacher I've worked with at one of my elementary schools for the last 2 years, giving me a big, warm smile and a wave. I guess she was in the city on business. That one gesture made me feel so much better.
But still, I got on my train out west and I started crying from how stressful and disheartening this trip had been. I enjoyed myself, and I really had a wonderful time with Kanno-sensei and her family (being with a nihonjin dispelled many of the unfriendly stares, but I did notice a lot of people's heads turning, saw their eyes on me and then flicking to my Japanese companions, some curious, some speculative), but I'm used to maybe getting an unfriendly stare once a week. I'm not used to getting stared at like that every day, by dozens of people.
And then I returned home to finish packing, to load up my car, and to finish cleaning my place, because my successor was in Tokyo and flying into Tokushima the following day. No rest for the weary, indeed.
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