The day my world started shaking

I’ve started and stopped writing this since the beginning of June.  The earthquakes happened on April 14th and 16th… When I think back to those days I still get emotionally caught up in what happened.  I’m almost to the three month mark since the big quake happened and I’m still sleeping on the floor with the light near my door on every night.

I’m hoping talking about it, detailing everything that happened and leaving nothing out will bring me some sort of catharsis.

So, here goes nothing… The day my world started shaking…

It started off the same way every other evening did.  As soon as 9:16 rolls around I head out of work and make my way home.  I work in downtown Kumamoto, so I take the B-Line tram home to Shinmachi.  I headed over to the tram stop, just enough time to get into line when the B-Line tram pulled in.  I hopped up, scanning my monthly pass and taking a seat.  Since the B-Line goes towards North Kumamoto station not many people use it at night.

We headed off for the next stop, Kumamoto Castle and City Hall.  I smiled at the guy sitting across the tram from me as we sat at the Kumamoto Castle stop for what seemed like a long time.  Finally, the conductor said ‘Thank you for waiting, we’re going now’ and this loud rumble echoed through the tram and it began to shake.  At the time, I thought that the tram was broken, but then the shaking got more violent and we were rocking back and forth.  It felt like at one point we were going to tip over.  In the middle of the confusion, with ladies screaming and my heart pounding, my phone started yelling at me.


(Earthquake! Earthquake!)

Little did I know at the time that those words would be my constant companion for the next two days.  As my phone started shouting I rolled my eyes and said to myself, ‘I know.’

As the quake subsided, I sat on the tram with other people, confused, but not too stressed out.  In terms of earthquakes I had experienced before (two baby ones in Fukuoka and one in Osaka) this was clearly larger, but I didn’t realize at the time just how large it was.  We looked around at each other, nervous smiles on our faces, listening to the conductor.  At first, it seemed as if the tram would move soon, so I stayed seated, waiting to head home.  After about five minutes he said the tram wouldn’t be going anywhere and told us all we’d have to get off.  I exchanged another smile with the guy across from me, who reassured me everything was alright as I got off the tram before heading off into the night.

While I was on the tram I started to receive a flurry of messages.  As more and more people messaged me to check in (about 40!) I gradually came to realize that this was a lot worse than what I had first thought.  The earthquake happened at 9:26, by 9:27 my trainer had already messaged me, asking if I was ok.  As countless more messages came in, I felt the worry begin to set in.  I started to move through the city, and saw a ton more people than usual.  Everyone was walking around confused and looking at the damage, trying to figure out a way to get home.  Transportation had stopped, 100+ people were stranded outside the bus center, and hundreds more were on trains and trams and couldn’t go anywhere.

I tried to get in touch with my co-workers, but neither of them have mobile data.  So, I started to walk home, getting more nervous as I walked down the street.

When I saw this picture was when it really hit me that this was a very powerful and damaging earthquake:

The sidewalk trying to pull apart.

The sidewalk was trying to pull apart as the fault lines moved.  There were spots like this all over the city.

I finally got ahold of one of my co-workers and we decided to meet up for a drink because we had experienced our first major earthquake.  She had been at the convenience store, checking out when the quake hit.  She didn’t know what to do, so she held onto the counter, locking eyes with the screaming Lawson employee across from her.  Others in the store darted for the doorway as wine bottles crashed, splintering their sweet nectar all over the floor.  “Not the 赤ワイン” became one of the phrases we used in the coming days, lamenting about all of the spilled wine we saw everywhere.

Continue reading