Earthquake !

There is a great joke among my friends who know me well.  No one really understands or quite believes it until and unless they have the benefit to actually witness it.... but, once asleep for the night, nothing wakes Mame up... NOTHING!

Thunder and lightning storms rage outside the open window... and Mame sleeps on.  The telephone rings and rings and rings... and Mame sleeps on.  The radio alarm clicks on at full volume, blaring, and plays for an hour before shutting itself off automatically... and Mame sleeps on.  The dog barks steadily for a half hour... and Mame sleeps on.  It's absolutely true... Once asleep it's as though I've gone into a coma and nothing wakes me.  I simply sleep on until I've had enough sleep and then I wake up naturally.

Well, four days into my trip of a lifetime to Japan a new experiment was attempted and -- BRAVO -- we have finally found something that wakes Mame up from a sound sleep!

I was still in Kyoto and I was on my own.  If you remember, Danielle had had to return to Tokyo for work and I had stayed in Kyoto to continue the next morning heading south-west to the Hiroshima area of the main island of Japan.   I had wanted to stay a few days there to see the place but the main purpose of my trip was to see the Hiroshima War Memorial that I had heard was really very beautiful, commemorating all those who died after the nuclear bomb that was dropped in the area during World War II.

At about 5:40 a.m. I found myself awake.  And the sky was falling.  The end had arrived.  Armageddon was taking place and the kings of the earth had chosen Kyoto, Japan to test their arsenals.

I was on the second floor of this ryokan, on a lovely futon over the tatami mats of the floor with luscious soft billowy pillows and a futon covering, dreaming of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, sushi, lovely young ladies in brightly coloured satin kimonos...and everything else that was filling my mind with new experiences.

The next thing I knew, I was awake.  But not just 'awake'.  I was in this bed on my knees, with my head down in the pillow -- picture it in your mind; obviously, my bottom was directed to the skies above.  There was an horrendous roaring noise, even louder than a freight train, that filled every corner of my brain.  Over an above that freight train was the tinkling of falling glass.

When one is near the epicentre of a severe earthquake, there is no shaking.  No, the earth doesn't shake at all -- IT MOVES.  And it moves very deliberately, first in one direction, stops and then moves back again, each time about 6 to 8 inches at least.  All right, so 'near the epicentre' is a relative term:  the earthquake actually occurred in the industrial city of Kobe, which was apparently about 50 to 55 miles from Kyoto.  In Kyoto it registered about 5.5 on the richter scale and I believe it was over 7 in Kobe.  Yes, it was an extremely severe quake.

One has a complete feeling of total helplessness, with the earth moving uncontrollably and the noise that accompanies this movement.  The thoughts were going through my mind that the end had come and no one was going to survive this.  And then, suddenly it stopped.

I lay down again, collected my thoughts and cautiously got out of bed.  I put on a robe and went to the window, sliding the shoji screens aside to reveal that the windows were intact.  So whatever glass I'd heard was not my own windows.  I went into the hallway, leaving my room, hoping greatly that someone would show up to share the experience with.

The feeling of being emotionally shaken was very strong and, as I walked down the hallway, I was weak in the knees and wringing my hands together in fear.  Looking out the window there, into the small courtyard below, it appeared that all visible windows were still in place.

At this moment, the owner of the ryokan came up the stairs from the ground floor.  Seeing me, he nodded and asked, "Are you okay?"
"Yes," I replied in a little voice I didn't recognize.  I cleared my throat and said, "That was an earthquake, hmm?"
"Yes, earthquake," he said, as he scurried into the little kitchenette and turned off the gas lines.  He exited the kitchen and went to check the bathrooms.
"That was a bad earthquake?" I queried.
"Yes, bad one," he answered me and then immediately went downstairs again, leaving me standing in the hallway, shaking with fear and feeling completely alone.

Well, I realized I wasn't going to find any solace with company and so I returned to my room and made a cup of coffee.  After some coffee and a badly needed cigarette to calm my nerves, with no further movement of the earth, I felt a great deal better.  I was, however, wide awake and not about to fall asleep again.

I decided, since I was awake and had decided the previous day to get an early start this morning, I would get myself dressed and head to the train station early.  Danielle had 'looked after' paying the bill before she'd left so all I had to do was pack up and leave, which is what I did.  And I headed over to the train station, which was perhaps a half-hour walk from our little ryokan; a substantial walk with heavy suitcase in hand, but not impossible.

The room I had just left did not have a television or a radio and, of course, I wouldn't have understood what was being said in any event. And I doubt very much that images of the area would have been available so soon after the event for television broadcasting.  Without any previous earthquake experience, I really had no concept of just how severe this shaker had been.  I remember, while trying to collect myself with that first cup of coffee, thinking that Danielle had mentioned Tokyo got 1,000 earthquakes a year -- okay, said I, that's one down and 999 to go.

I entered the train station and located the Japan Rail office, which is where one goes to get a ticket when you have a rail pass.   I consulted the booklet of schedules I had and saw that there was a bullet train scheduled just about every hour to go to Hiroshima, so when I entered the Japan Rail office I went to the ticket counter, showed my rail pass and requested a ticket to Hiroshima.
"No Hiroshima," was the only reply I received.
"Yes, Hiroshima, please," I repeated.
The ticket seller restated, "No Hiroshima," as he deliberately turned away from me, obviously not wanting to engage in conversation.  Well, I suppose, in fairness, his English was not what he'd like it to be to have a tete et tete.
But my schedule definitely stated that the trains left from this station hourly to go in that direction, and I really wanted a ticket.  And so, to the back of his head, I iterated once more, "Hiroshima, pleeeeeeease."
Well, he just looked at me and said, quite forcefully this time, "No Hiroshima!"

What was I to do?  I decided to leave the office and return to the main section of the station to decide my next move.  This obviously wasn't going well and I needed to study this schedule I had becuase perhaps I'd read it incorrectly after all.  Once more out in the main terminal there were no benches or anywhere to sit, so I dragged my suitcase over to a main supporting pole, leaned against it and pulled out the schedule once again.
There were hundreds or thousands of people milling about and a speaker for the P.A. system very near with the constant dronning of messages to the prospective train riders.  Suddenly there was a caucasian woman approaching me and she asked, with an American accent, if I understood what the P.A. system transmitting.  I laughed and said I was terribly sorry, but had only been in the country for four days and all I could tell her was that the Japan Rail office wouldn't sell me a train ticket.  Well, she informed me there had been an earthquake and I said, yes, that much I had figured out.

It seems she was a teacher of English at the university in Osaka, which was about an hour's train ride from Kyoto, and her students were to write an exam that morning and she had to find a way to get to Osaka.  She informed me that she felt certain there would be no trains to Hiroshima that day at all.  Ahhhhhhhh, so that's what the man in Japan Rail was trying to tell me -- it wasn't that I was in the wrong place, it was that no trains were going due to the quake!  Well, she went on her way and I was, once more, standing at the pole in the middle of the terminal with thousands of people milling around.  What was I to do now?

I was hungry.  By now it was about 8:00 a.m. and I'd already been up for a couple of hours.  I looked around and saw a coffee shop.  Well, this was to be my first foray into the unknown all by myself.  Until this point, Danielle had been with me, but I did have to eat sometime and now seemed about right, due to the hunger that my tummy was telling me.  So I dragged the suitcase over to the coffee shop, entered and looked around.

A very nice young lady, waitress, approached me and asked me to follow her, which I did, where she seated me at a very large round table for 8.  There were already 3 or 4 people sitting on the opposite side of the table, just finishing their breakfast.  They finished up and left, and were soon replaced with new diners.  Soon the chair beside me was occupied by a nice looking man in a suit who ate his breakfast in silence and then pulled out a package of cigarettes.  He asked if he could use my lighter and that, of course, began the conversation.  He noted my travel book, Foders, on the table and asked if I was a visitor to Japan, where was I from and how long I planned to be there.  He was such a nice person, explaining that no trains would be running that day out of the station due to the quake, that apparently many of the overhead tracks south of Kyoto were severely damaged and twisted and all others, including those going north back to Tokyo, needed to be carefully examinedbefore running trains on them again.

With this knowledge I decided that Kyoto was worthy of at least one more day of sightseeing, and it really was.  I returned to the ryokan and asked if it would be possible for me to stay another night and they graciously carried my suitcase back to the room I had just shortly before vacated.  And then I went off for the day with the idea of doing a little shopping.  Generally speaking, I'm not a shopper but I knew I was expected to get at least a few remembrances of the trip and some gifts for those at home.  In my tour book I had noticed that there was a store that specialized in handicrafts made by students in an art college in the city and decided that that was where I would begin my shopping.

I had a wonderful day.  I was on my feet from morning til evening and walked and walked simply everywhere, taking in miles and miles of pavement.  My first stop was a bank to cash some travellers cheques, and that was an experience unlike anything I was familiar with -- I'll tell you about that later.  As well as shopping, I also visited another Buddhist temple compound with 'sand gardens' that were beautifully raked in intricate designs; I had lunch at another Buddhist temple after wandering around and inspecting the overhead aquaduct system.  The memories of that lunch is subject of another 'memory' in this series.  I walked alongside a small canal where I saw a pure white egret.  It's funny, but I've never seen an egret before and the moment I saw it I knew what it was.

At the end of the day, about 5:30 p.m., the sun had set and it was dusk outside and I decided I had better skedaddle back to the ryokan and survey all my purchases.  That final walk back was torture because, as well as being completely worn out, my feet now sported blisters.  Luckily I passed by a pharmacy and stopped in to see if I could locate bandaids.  Sure enough, on the counter I found Johnson & Johnson bandaids!  The rest of the package was printed in Japanese, but the Johnson & Johnson logo was as clear as it would be in any North American pharmacy.  I left there with my purchase, stopped into a bake shop where I purchased a couple of sandwiches and headed back to the hotel, arriving there just before 6:00 p.m.

Just as I was settling down in the room, the lady-owner of the ryokan knocked on the door and informed me I had a telephone call; the phone was in the hallway.  So I went to answer it, wondering who in the world it would be.  Danielle would think I was in Hiroshima and no one else would know how to find me.  Well, it was Danielle and she was extremely agitated, beginning the conversation with:
"Mother, where are you?"
"Well, I'm right here, of course, but how did you know to find me here?"
"There has been an earthquake, you know!"
"Well, yes, I figured that out."
"It's been a very very bad one!"
And here was I, completely oblivious to the whole event.  After all, that had happened 12 hours earlier and I'd done so much since then.  I explained to her that I was unable to get trains out of Kyoto and, hopefully, the trains going north would be available again the next day so I would be returning to Tokyo.  I hadn't bothered to let her know because I would be returning probably a day early or the same day I'd intended to return to her, and would explain it all when I got there.

I suppose the earthquake had been the topic of all conversations that day by everyone.... except me.  Of course, as I mentioned, I didn't understand a word of Japanese and what people were talking about and what may have been blasted from radios was totally foreign to me.  And I did not discover, until I returned to Tokyo, that there are English language newspapers available.  So, you see, my knowledge of the earthquake was completely limited to what I experienced.  Throughout my day in Kyoto, I had not observed any damage whatsoever.

All of my experience of the earthquake may seem highly amusing, and I suppose it is from my perspective.  Unfortunately, it was a dreadful tragedy where over 7,000 souls died.  Only a minimum number from the earthquake itself, but most of the deaths are attributed to the gas explosions and fires that were triggered by the quake.  The city of Kobe, which was where the quake was centred, suffered much greater damage than at first realized.  Because of the gas fires, much of its industrial area was wiped out entirely so that even once things settled down a little most people had no where to go to work to.  In the little more than 24 hours I was in Kyoto after the quake, I didn't feel any aftershocks.

The following day, my attempt at the Japan Rail office for a ticket on a train headed back to Tokyo immediately produced the required ticket and I headed back to Danielle.

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