Thursday, January 27, 2005

"No Serious Damage"

Maybe this was before I noticed the Kachina doll, I guess…. Before 6:00 AM, I did make a phone call to my parents living in Kochi. Kochi is a prefecture on another island, Shikoku, and rarely hit by earthquakes. I was almost positive that my parents weren’t affected by the quake very much, so I wasn’t worried about them. But I thought they might be worried about me. Oh I have to call them and tell them I’m alright. I heard the phone is usually on even when the power is down, so it should be working now...

What they say about the phone was true. The phone was working at that moment and I was able to talk to my mom. She said in a sleepy voice, “Yeah, we felt the quake a little, but not much. We’re alright.” And she didn’t even ask me if I was alright. At that time, she never ever imagined that we had a bigger quake in Hyogo prefecture. Anyway, I felt some relief, thinking that they won't have to worry about me.

After the phone call…I don’t know how long after… I started checking things out in my room.

Kachina doll wasn’t the only thing that was broke. I found a few glasses and dishes on the kitchen floor, broken into pieces. (Actually, it wasn’t a real kitchen. My apartment room was close to what they call “one-room type” in Japan and it only had a sink and small gas stove in one corner of the living room, near the entrance. I must have walked by those broken dishes when I went outside the room, but I didn’t see them because it was still dark at that time. )

Should I clean the kitchen floor now or is there anything else I should do before that?
Should I cry? Should I yell? Should I evacuate? How bad was the quake after all?
I wanted information, more than anything else.

The power was down. No TV. How I wished that I had a transistor radio then! But even if I did, I don’t think the details of the disaster were known at that point. I tried the faucet --- no water came out, which was no surprise to me. I had been told by the landlord that we couldn’t get water when the power was down. There was a device to send water from the water tank on top of our apartment building to each room, and it couldn’t work without electricity, he said.

Not knowing what to do, I was self-talking before I knew it. I was certainly on the edge and almost bursting out.
I need someone to talk to right now!! Otherwise I’ll go crazy!!
I need someone to come knocking on the door and ask me if I was OK,
and give some idea of what to do.
Then an idea came to my mind.

That year, I was still in close touch with my friend “S” who was in the U.S. She was an American, older than I, and we became close friends (at least I thought so) when I was in the U.S. After I came back to Japan, we corresponded with each other not by writing but by sending cassette tapes. We would record our voices on micro cassette tapes and sent them to each other by air mail. So I always kept a micro cassette recorder close to me when I was in my room, and recorded my “voice letter” whenever I felt like it.

It wasn’t difficult to find the cassette recorder on the floor that morning. I grabbed it, pushed the “record” button, and started talking to the small machine, “Hi S! Guess what just happened here…” If someone had seen me then, (s)he must have thought I was crazy. I don’t remember seeing my face in the mirror that morning, but I must have been looking terrible. Anyway, I didn’t know then but when I listened to the tape again before mailing it to S, I was surprised how weak and shaky my voice was.

(BTW, I sent the tape to S, and she mailed it back to me several weeks later. She said, on another tape that was enclosed in the same envelope, “This is something very important to you, so I think you should keep it.” So I have the tape with me now. It is one of these micro cassette tapes, but I can't tell which one because I forgot to put a label on.
The problem is... I don’t have the player any more, and I can’t find one around here. If, someday, I find a player and have a chance to listen to the tape again, I’ll write what I feel then.)

I walked around in my room with the cassette recorder in my hand, telling S everything about my room. I clearly remember kicking the broken dishes/glasses (I had shoes on by then) to make noise so that she could hear. I told her about the power, water and my worry about the gas pipe.

Actually, other than a few plates and glasses broken in the kitchen, there was no serious damage found in my room. My biggest surprise (and relief) was that my microwave oven did not fall on the floor and crash. Instead, my electric rice cooker was on the floor on its side. I told S everything I saw, and repeated over and over “No serious damage” and “I’m OK.” It wasn’t so much for her… it was ME who needed the reassurance over and over.

No serious damage
… At that time, I didn’t know it was going to be a curse for me afterwards… and for such a long time.


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