July 31, 2011

Another day, another earthquake

Copyright Universal Pictures, 1974

At around 0400 this morning my eyes popped open because the room was shuddering, and our house was lurching slightly, groaning. It was yet another earthquake tremor shaking the greater Tokyo area—and with it, my sleeping family. After an internal debate on whether I should get up and do something or not, I grew bored by the jostling and, as it tailed off, went back to sleep. The kids dozed right through it. This was yet another tremor that teased us about The Big One to come: ZZZZZzzzzz.

I never thought I would write this, but it rings true: like bad weather, crime, taxes, or other unpalatable facts of life beyond our individual control, earthquakes are something you get used to, and quickly get over, as you carry on with your day (or night). In other words, we do not negotiate with the terror tremors of Mother Nature.

I have not forgotten about the 20,000 people who lost their lives or are missing due to the horrible earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11. That event has had such a tremendous impact on all residents of Japan that one can never forget it. Nevertheless, as a Canadian I had not experienced any major quakes while growing up in the Great White North. Even after moving to Hiroshima, because it is not situated on a major fault line, I rarely experienced any major tremors.

Yokohama, though, is located right where several tectonic plates meet (thank you, high school geography class). The Great Kanto earthquake hit the Kanto plain around Tokyo – including Yokohama – in 1923, and killed over 100,000 people. I knew that and all sorts of other empirical facts when we were considering moving here. Yet about 35 million people choose to live in this region, despite the threat of the Big One coming at any time. Do we have a death wish?

No, we do not. When I first arrived in May, with people still leaving the area fearful of either a major aftershock or radiation contamination due to the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident, I asked one of my co-workers, a native Yokohamian, about the threat of a major earthquake, and he replied: “It is what it is. You get used to them. I don’t even notice much anymore. So will you.”

Source: CNN
I work through tremors at the office. I sleep through tremors at night. After only a few months living here, I have gotten used to these seismic serenades. So even when a major earthquake happens nearby, like today’s 6.4 magnitude quake that struck about 185 km north of Tokyo and which we certainly felt down in Yokohama, there is a certain cavalier “whatever” attitude of normalcy to it. My only wish is that Mother Nature would have the courtesy not to have the next big one occur in the middle of the night. There is a limit to what I can tolerate.

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