Friday was one of those chaotic days in Japan when nothing seems to go as planned. Aya and I were supposed to meet at the Ikebukuro station at eleven to go see a movie together, but ended up meeting at noon. We also had planned to watch the movie first and then eat, but thanks to our starving stomachs, we ate lunch first and bought tickets to the next showing…and when we finally sunk into our comfortable theater seats, completely prepared to experience a world of adventure and action through the eyes of Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, the earthquake happened.
…and that was when Aya and Aozora’s long day of thrilling adventure began.
I had just finished gobbling up a packet of chocolate-filled pretzels and was wondering to myself how the other three packets could last me through the two-hour movie if I had already devoured one just during the previews, when I began to feel queasy. At first I thought I was going to pass out like I did on the airplane, because everything seemed to be rocking. “Aya,” I whispered, my smile turning confused, “I feel – ” Yet I could not finish, for at that moment, the whole movie theater jolted side to side – and kept on jolting. There was a hush – then everyone in the theater – young couples, friends and families – began to talk all at once. The word “earthquake” rumbled like thunder throughout the theater and lit the match of panic inside of me. My brain went into overdrive as to what to do in this situation so unnatural to me and I threw out question after question to poor Aya, who grabbed my hand and pulled me down in between the seats. While the world shook and the screen blacked out after a particularly heavy shake, couple after couple gathered their belongings to rush out of the theater. Watching this, Aya and I locked eyes and grabbed our belongings as well, but our hands stopped mid-air when we overheard a conversation between the young couple behind us. “It’s okay – just don’t move,” the guy was telling his girlfriend, the powerful tone in his voice not quite disguising the fear and panic there, too, “DON’T MOVE.” With that, Aya and I squatted down again. Eons seemed to pass until the shaking finally started to subside – but when it did, we breathed a sigh of relief and stood back up. Soon a theater representative entered and asked those of us who were still left to please evacuate, using the stairs.
“I am so scared, Aya,” I kept repeating as we rushed our way down to the ground floor, to look with horror at the sight of crowds and crowds of people down on the streets of Ikebukuro milling about, all looking just as confused as we were. It looked as if every single square foot of the sidewalks below the gigantic skyscrapers were taken up by people. I assumed that all of the shoppers from every building in Ikebukuro had evacuated, like we did. With that came the scary realization that hoards of people and twenty-story high buildings added to a large earthquake could only result in severe danger. Just imagining buildings collapsing and all of those crowds and crowds of people screaming and rushing, toppling over each other to get away from the falling objects was enough to cause a gigantic tsunami wave of panic to sweep over me. “Aya, we need to get out of here!” I cried to my friend, who was looking bewildered as well, “We need to escape to a park or something!”
So that was how we found ourselves pushing our way through the crowd and into the Ikebukuro train station. Yet when we arrived at the entrance to the JR line (a safer choice than the subway, according to Aya, because they ride on top of land, getting rid of the risk of the tunnel collapsing and not being able to get out), we were greeted by a rare sight. I was used to seeing the liveliness of people rushing a million directions in train stations, but instead of this, we saw large numbers of people just standing in the station. An announcement on the speakers informed us of the reason – all of the trains had stopped moving because of the large earthquake, which had apparently occurred in Northern Japan.
Deflated and terrified, we jumped to Plan B, which was to communicate back home. Aya tried to call her parents while I texted my host mother to inform her of my situation and to ask what I should do. We both had trouble getting through the phone lines, but after many tries, were able to call and text eventually. Both my host mother and Aya’s mother answered that we should wait in a safe place until the trains move again, and come home then.