Teacher, where were you… when big earthquake…?
In case I’m not sure what they mean, the student helpfully makes a motion to demonstrate the shaking with their hands at this point in the question. I was only halfway through my first week back at work when I began to run out of new ways to tell the same stories. Friday 11 March was like a terrible film on almost constant loop in my head.
The students are lucky, in a way, because they only have to tell theirs once. Japanese stoicism being what it is, I suppose this might be their only opportunity to speak out loud and I don’t begrudge them taking it at all. I reflect that I am also in quite a privileged position, being able to listen to voices that aren’t often heard by gaijin. Students have voiced criticisms to me that I doubt they would tell a spouse or a parent if the normal rules hadn’t been suspended for a short time by the crisis.
They tell me of having to sleep in the office, on a piece of cardboard or in a family restaurant because of suspended trains. Of taking in family members from the North who have left everything behind. Of their disbelief at US news outlets thinking Sendai is located in Kyushu in the West. Or they speak of how business is being disrupted, the usual routine thrown into disarray by colleagues relocating, shipments being delayed and a thousand other factors. Everyone is busy, working hard, worrying about the future and where it might lead.
Japan feels alone…
…one student tells me, fearful that tourists – rare even in better times due to the yen’s strength – will no longer want to come because of the radiation. So I mention that I have family about to arrive and they are so happy to hear the news, we talk of places my relatives should visit while they are here and it is a relief to turn to a less fraught topic of conversation for a short while. It seems such a small crumb of comfort to be able to offer when what is needed is a feast.
Picture from the Yamanote line, Saturday 12 March