by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel’s high school abroad participant
It’s interesting that I didn’t really think about earthquakes before I came to Japan. I knew that Japan had them, but I wasn’t really worried because it is also supposed to be one of the best countries in terms of earthquake safety. When I was preparing to leave, it didn’t worry me at all. I mostly thought it would be interesting to experience an earthquake. I have lived for my entire life in New England, (the northeastern United States) so I had never experienced one before I came to Japan. I have been to California (which does have earthquakes), but there weren’t any while I was there.
However, perhaps two weeks into my stay here, I experienced my first earthquake. Before that, I thought that it would be an interesting experience, maybe even fun, like an amusement park ride. It was actually really scary, even though it was a small earthquake. I think this is because all the time, even when you are riding a roller coaster or bouncing on a trampoline, the earth doesn’t move. It is the trampoline or the ride that moves; the ground always stays in the same place. After a lifetime of walking on a ground that doesn’t move, the earthquake was really unsettling. It felt to me as if the earth had been wrenched off its bearings, and was being shaken violently. I felt really discombobulated afterward. I’m glad Japan has so many security measures regarding earthquakes.
Today, in school, we had an earthquake drill, which was interesting. It was a little like a fire drill. First a voice came over the intercom, telling us to start the drill. The teacher actually picked up a chair and held it over her head, demonstrating how we were supposed to crawl under our desks when the alarm rang. (Everyone thought that was pretty funny.) The alarm didn’t sound anything at all like the fire alarm we have in America. (Before, I was wondering how students could tell them apart.) It sounded a little like the sound an ambulance makes, except lower in pitch.
When it rang everyone climbed under their desks. This didn’t work too well. Japanese desks are pretty small, and not everyone could fit under their desks. My friend, who sits behind me, just stuck her head under the desk and left everything else unprotected. I managed to get most of my body under my desk, but it was really uncomfortable. The teacher went under her desk as well, which impressed me. I think that if students are practicing emergency procedures, the teacher should take it seriously as well.
We sat under our desks for a couple minutes, (Ow!) until the voice came over the intercom again, telling us it was okay to come out. Then we all trooped out of the classroom and went to the gym, where we sat in rows according to class. Normally, we would have went outside, but the it was very cold that day.
The middle-schoolers, who share the building with us, also came and sat in the gym. I was a little surprised at how many students there were; many more than my school in America. While we were sitting, different teachers came and did little speeches. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same type of thing teachers say in America after fire drills; ‘you did a good job, don’t talk so much, etc.’ I was surprised to learn that the elementary and pre-schoolers would have normally joined us in the gym as well. I’m not sure I understand why all the grades have to sit together, though. Maybe because it’s more convenient, and you don’t have to worry about communicating with the other classes? Maybe they would prefer to have all the teachers together.