First Earthquake Experience

Friday, October 21, 2016

Starting on my 20 minute walk to campus from my dorm, I mentally went over grammar points and vocabulary I might see on my Japanese midterm exam in less than an hour. I looked up at the wires hanging above the narrow residential road and the thought suddenly occurred to me:

“Would these survive through an earthquake?”

If an earthquake did happen and I was walking under these wires, chances are I wouldn’t be able to avoid them.

I shook the thought off and continued mentally reviewing for my exam, trusting that Japan’s dealt with enough earthquakes in the past to prevent potential danger as much as they can.

I took my exam without a problem, had lunch, and went to my next class.

About an hour into the class, about 10 phones started to go off simultaneously. At first I didn’t realize the phones were the source of the alarm and thought it was just a fire alarm. But then it occurred to me that there was more than one alarm and they were just slightly off sync. And then it started saying 地震です。地震です。(Jishin desu. Jishin desu/Earthquake. Earthquake). But I was confused because there wasn’t an earthquake.

Confused by all the unexpected information, it felt like a while before I actually felt the earthquake, even though it had only been about 10 seconds since the alarm went off and the earthquake hit my area.

My class was on the fourth and highest floor of the building, so I’m sure it felt a lot worse to me than to those outside or on ground level. But the only way I could describe the feeling was like jelly. The building, built specially to withstand earthquakes and fires, moved with the earth rather than against it.

Nothing fell off of anyone’s desks and I didn’t notice anything else shaking. I was too occupied by the feeling of the entire building moving with me and the confusion of the earthquake alarms that I didn’t notice much around me other than the fact that the teacher just calmly stood in the front of the classroom waiting for the shaking to stop.

No one really did anything, we just sat there and some people were saying things like “I can feel it!” or “I can’t feel it..Oh now I can!”

I’m pretty sure proper protocol during an earthquake is to cover your head, but no one moved from where they were sitting (or standing in my professor’s case).

The earthquake was over in about 45 seconds I would say. And once people were (somewhat) calmed down, (I personally was shaking from adrenaline for about another 5 minutes afterwards), the professor calmly stated “That was the strongest earthquake I’ve felt in this building.”

The earthquake was centered a couple prefectures away in Tottori Prefecture, about a three hour away drive by bus. The blue dot on the picture below is my current location, thanks to google maps search engine telling me how strong the earthquake was and where I’m currently located. I even heard from a couple Japanese singers I like that they even felt a little bit of it in Tokyo.

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-7-19-14-pm

Where I was had an impact of about a 3 on the Shindo scale, a Japanese-made scale that rates how the bad the shaking is on the surface. Tottori had a rating of 6弱 (6-lower). If you’re interested, you can view the scale here.

Overall the earthquake didn’t have much of an impact on my surroundings. Everything looked the way it had been during my morning walk and even the card standing up on the edge of my shelf in my room remained in place. I thought for sure that would at least have fallen.

Some Japanese students were saying that this was a pretty strong earthquake. But for me, having never experienced an earthquake before, I had nothing to compare it to.

But if that was considered strong for the area, I don’t think I’ll have much to worry about in the next two months, especially since a more powerful earthquake isn’t expected for the area anytime soon.

So to those who know me reading this, there’s no need to worry about earthquakes interrupting my experience in Japan.

If anything, it added to my experience here.

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