My exploits in Japan have taken me to so many unusual places, but none was ever as strange as Tamagawa Park. It’s not really because it had exotic flora or fauna or that it had a long-winding river that snaked into the horizon or that it had visitors who didn’t speak nor relate with me. It was strange because of the circumstances I found it in. At a time when the whole country was in the midst of chaos, panic, and disaster, it was odd to find a quiet and unassuming place and find peace there.
It was the 11th of March 2011, and Japan just had its most frightening earthquake to date. Homes, schools, buildings, cars, boats, lives were swept away by the tsunami that ravaged the country’s Pacific coast. I was in my Japanese school, and we were just finishing up. It was our last day in class and my last term as I was set to go back to my own country. Our sensei was telling us to do our best in the exams the following week when suddenly the windows, the TV, and the airconditioner started shaking. We could feel the earth grumbling underneath our feet. My classmates were frightened. Most of them had never experienced an earthquake before. I felt the need to be brave and reassured them that it was natural. Our sensei did the same and told them that Japan has hundreds of earthquakes every year. She added that this one would probably stop soon. It wasn’t particularly strong, anyway. But it never stopped. So our sensei escorted us outside, just to be safe.
We stayed outside in the wintry afternoon, waiting for the shaking to subside. Because I had vertigo, I started to feel a little dizzy. But I kept a brave and reassuring face because some of my younger classmates were clinging to me at that point. I had also experienced a number of frightening earthquakes in the Philippines, and I didn’t really think this one to be a big deal. So I held hands with my classmates, smiled, and said, “It’s going to be over soon.” But as soon as I said that, the shaking got stronger, and we had to cling to a lamp post just to keep steady. The neighbor’s dog, a brown collie named Hana-chan, came bounding toward us, shivering and seeking comfort. My younger classmates found comfort in her, too.
I don’t remember how long the shaking lasted, but I remember that we had to go back to the classroom because it was freezing outside. And as soon as we got back inside, one of the teachers came and told us that classes were dismissed and that we didn’t need to take the exams anymore! I thought that was strange. But as it turned out, the country had just experienced its worst national disaster since the Kobe earthquake. It registered as 9.0, a worldwide record. And it hit the northeastern area of Japan the worst. The entire east coast, from north to south, had a tsunami warning. Some nuclear reactors were extremely damaged. The trains had stopped running. Mobile phone networks were down. There was no way to know if our loved ones were still alive.
I got back to my place in Yokohama the day after, having slept at the school where I did part-time work as an English teacher. Only a few trains were running that time. I hadn’t really slept. I hadn’t eaten anything substantial. I was far away from family and friends. I felt extremely lonely and scared. I looked out the window of the train I was in as it headed for Yokohama. I was perhaps hoping for reassurance, that somehow there was comfort in the new day. But the more I looked, the more I found that there really was nothing to see — just houses, trees, roads, and people that were as scared as me. The change was palpable.
Then I saw it, a small park atop a hill. I had been meaning to go there for sometime because I always saw it on the way to school. So instead of going straight back to my place, I stopped at Tamagawa, an unfamiliar, unassuming, and really quiet station. I walked a few steps and found an uphill path leading somewhere I didn’t see. When I got to the topmost part, I was astonished to find an array of small blue and pink flowers, blowing in the wind. There were pine trees, as well, with their dried up cones scattered on the patch of green grass I stood in. As I walked farther, I found stone chairs and tables and a lone wooden bench near what I thought was a sakura tree. The cherry blossoms had started to bloom, and I then realized that spring was just around the corner.
I stayed there for a few hours, looking at the blue sky, exploring new paths, and picking up pine cones. Pretty soon, I found that some other people had come to the park, too. I think they were a family, and they went to a pond, where the kids fed the fish. It felt surreal. Like yesterday hadn’t happened at all. And I thought that it’s not really because yesterday didn’t happen or that people chose to forget. But it was because, perhaps, like me, they were frightened, and they were clinging to hope in a small sanctuary they had found atop a hill.
I sat on the wooden bench and drank in the cool morning air. It felt like I was breathing my very first breath again. I felt as though I had somehow died in the last few hours and came back to life again.
Daily Prompt: Blogger in a Strange Land