So, the next few days were all the same. The next day I wanted to go back to Kenta’s because he was more centrally located, and Laura’s house was farther away from everybody else. Kenta somehow managed to get back to Morioka. He started in Osaka, took a plane to Tokyo, another one to the area north of Iwate, rented a car, drove for a few hours in the night, decided that it was too dangerous to drive for hours with no street lights, got a hotel (somehow), and drove the rest of the way back in the morning. It was supposed to be a direct flight. Laura took me back to Kenta’s, which was really nice since nobody knew when gas would be sent, and I walked in his apartment with my bags of instant noodles I had, and made sure to vacuum the shards from the dish that had broken since I couldn’t do it before.
Kenta came home, and I was so so so happy, and we sat around watching the news for a while. Nobody knew what to do. Our onsen trip had been cancelled, I didn’t know when I would be getting back to Yokohama, people weren’t working, there was no gas, so no buses, stores weren’t really open, and nobody really wanted to go out at night because it would feel weird. But since everyone was sitting around in the apartments all day not knowing what to do, we naturally gravitated towards the Mexican-style foreigner bar in town many nights. The atmosphere there was less than jovial however. Instead of screaming and hollering, it was people sitting around with steins of beer kinda staring at the tables.
That first night at Kenta’s I met some other Americans who had been living on the coast and heard their stories. One had been home when the earthquake hit, and had to run from the tsunami on foot. He had thought about getting in his car to be able to drive away more quickly, but decided that he didn’t have time to back out of his parking space. He had to go back later and get his passport, which had gotten wet, and since his contract was over and he was planning to go home anyways, his job of packing was made much simpler. Instead of shipping home boxes and suitcases, he took a half filled suitcase to the airport. The ironic thing is that he had paid all his bills the day before the earthquake, and then that hit, and then it didn’t matter. It was funny how bright and shiny his eyes were, instead of dull and sad. I asked him about this, and he said it was because he was just so happy to be alive, he didn’t care that all of his stuff was gone.
The other guy had been at his school when it hit, I think. His apartment wasn’t hit by the tsunami, but a lot of his students and teachers were missing. These two guys met in line to get rations, and actually didn’t know each other before that, even though they were both the only foreigners in a tiny town! They kinda sorta hitchhiked to Morioka, as in caught a ride with one of their student’s fathers who was coming anyways, and were staying at a hotel for a few days.
The pattern for a few days was sleep in late, sit around in pajamas eating instant noodles and watching the news, making dinner out of scarce ingredients, and going to the bar. There was a pervasive sense of ennui around, although there were enough times when we were able to forget ourselves, given the right combination of people. Those were special. Sometimes people would go over to each others’ places just to hang out and have a little extra human contact, and those times we would find some errand to do and walk there, since that took extra time and there were no buses. Every day I checked at the station asking about shinkansens and night buses, and every day they told me they didn’t know. Did they know when they’d know when gas would come in? No? Ok. If I had known the damage to the bullet trains or Sendai station (a main transfer station between Tokyo and Morioka) I wouldn’t have wasted my energy asking about them every day, but I learned soon enough. Some people went to volunteer. Yuka and a friend made 500 rice balls and took them to a shelter in town where people from the coast were staying, and Rylan went and asked what he could do, and they had him carry some stuff and then man the door to remind people that the library was still a shelter and not a library yet.
People didn’t have to go to work at all really, because there was still uncertainty about electricity and gas, and people were still eating cup noodles. I tried to go to the grocery store a couple of times, but I never managed to get there in the morning, by when all the produce and instant food was gone. Another hot commodity was toilet paper, and I tried to buy conditioner but couldn’t find any. This happened every time we went. So, whenever I had a shopping list for a meal that Kenta, Alice (another friend staying at Kenta’s because she didn’t feel safe in her old apartment) and I were going to make, we would go to the store, find nothing on the list, and have to make a new meal on the spot and improvise. There were strawberries, but no onions, because onions are useful and strawberries are not.
After a few days, one of the people in Iwate decided that she wanted to go home. This is understandable, since just about everybody had family members calling and emailing them every day, with messages that ranged from advising us to consider returning home for a little while to demanding that we come home right now and if we didn’t we must all be idiots. I’m glad I never got the latter, but I saw an email on somebody’s phone, and they were not happy about it, since we can make our own decisions about our lives, thankyouverymuch. Anyways, this girl went home, and her boss was quite upset, because it was a small school. She decided and packed in a hurry, and had to take a taxi to the next prefecture and a plane to Tokyo. Soon after that, another girl decided she needed to go home, based mostly on intense pressure from back home. This left her quite emotional, and there were many tears shed at her goodbye party. Some people went to her apartment to get her luggage to send back to her later, and the rest was divvied up or set aside for donations. I will say, however, that in the foreigner community and online, there were heated opinions on both sides, from those that were leaving and those that were staying. After a while, someone coined a new term on twitter, mixing the words for foreigner and fly to make “flyjin,” much to the chagrin of those more politically correct and accepting. Now there’s a sarcastic and slightly scathing website devoted to this topic. I recommend starting at the beginning, instead of the top.
On Tuesday I went to my middle school’s graduation. The buses were running on a limited schedule then, but they weren’t going as far south as my school. I had to take a bus as far down as I could and catch a cab the rest of the way. Graduation was a somber affair. Most times it’s dripping with emotion, since these kids are so emotional about ending that part of their lives, but this time everyone just seemed kinda distracted. People didn’t really hang out talking as much afterwards. To get back, I walked a mile until I got to the first open restaurant since there were no open convenience stores and I was really hungry, and took a cab north to the nearest bus stop. Phew.
After a few days, Kenta decided that he wanted to get off his butt and do something. One of the guys from the bar needed a ride back to his town to get his stuff from his apartment, since he was also going home anyways, and asked us to give him a lift along with a bunch of stuff Kenta had been collecting for donations. We woke up one morning at about 5:30, loaded up the van full to the brim of food and clothing and blankets, and climbed in. Kenta was nervous about getting there since he didn’t know if we would have enough gas to get there and back. Instead of spending the night in his car like most people had, he took a more cunning route. A little ways outside of town there was a shortish line (2 blocks instead of about 3 miles), and Kenta got in the back of it. Apparently at 7AM they were already sold out even though they were only giving people 10 liters each, but Kenta refused to get out of line. The man outside kept on telling him to go somewhere else, but Kenta is from Kansai and is stubborn and already had a full car and was not going to turn back now, so he stayed in line, and the guy gave up. We got to the next guy in line, and he said we could have 1 liter. Ok. We got to the pump, and Kenta go out and told them to look in his car, and he’s taking a guy back to the coast so he can get his stuff, and he’s a refugee, and look at all the stuff we’re going to donate! So we got 10 liters. Oh, Kenta.
I have to admit I was pretty nervous about going since I didn’t want to get in the way of any of the aid workers or people trying to pick themselves back up. But the guy from the coast convinced me that although they weren’t calling for volunteers, if I went with a connection (him), it would be fine. I was glad I didn’t bail at the last minute; it was an experience and the people in the shelters seemed genuinely happy to see us. The most coveted items were cigarettes (which the old ladies in charge pocketed) and a battery operated cell phone charger, even though there was no signal (which the middle aged man in charge pocketed). We asked if there was anything else they needed, and they said kerosene for heaters, electricity, and gasoline. No fun going to bed with the sun in a cold room and having to get up the next morning to siphon gas from an abandoned car.
We stayed for just one night, helping clean up the guy’s apartment, going to bed at 5 when it got dark, and getting up the next morning at 6. We were supposed to go help them sort food supplies the next day, but Kenta had caught something and was acting kinda funny, and with all the sickness already spreading in the shelters (one thing that made me cry when I watched the news was seeing the body of an old man being carried out of a shelter, since he had escaped the tsunami but died of some sickness) we decided it would be best if we went back.
Leaving felt like abandoning them, though. We were so excited as soon as we crossed some invisible line and got our cell phone signal back, and were able to blow our noses and get all the black dust out for good, and look forward to going to an onsen to get cleaned up, and knowing that those people weren’t able to. But even being there for one night was so emotionally draining. I don’t know how aid workers do it. (Also, we saw a US Navy helicopter when we were there, and even though I didn’t see any Americans, it made me so happy.)
And then, I heard that the night buses to Tokyo were running! Yay!!! I booked a ticket right away, but never got around to paying for it at the convenience store out of laziness and I’ll do it laterness, and then the deadline came. So, I had to pay by 11. Alright, I got plans at 8, I’ll pay and then meet friends. But all the convenience stores were closed! How aggravating. I went to a few, and asked about others, and then I tried to pay by Kenta’s credit card on my phone, but the screen was so tiny, and instead of hitting “Pay” I hit “Cancel” Crap. Kenta made me a new reservation on a different site, which turned out to be a few hundred yen less, yay! But I wasn’t going to get to Tokyo until Sunday night. Poor Kirby, he really wanted me back. So that night was supposed to be my going away party, but instead turned into a regular dinner since I had a bus ticket for a later date.
The day I was finally going to go back, I went to the station at 10:15, since my bus was leaving at 10:50 or something, and thought I should be on time. Probably. Normally there are only three buses run by JR that go from Morioka to Tokyo a night, but this night there were THIRTEEN at least. I was on bus number thirteen, I don’t know how high they actually went up. People were confused since normally your bus is waiting and you get on but this time you had to wait for the other bus to leave, and before we realized how it worked there was a bunch of wheres my bus my bus isn’t here is this the right place! There were soooo many people, and dogs barking, and rowdy kids coming to see their friends off. I saw a guy that works at the Morioka BOE and I didn’t feel like talking to him so I ran off into the other side of the crowd.
I was really impressed that after only a couple of weeks, and very little gasoline in the country JR was working so hard to get people wherever they needed to go. My bus wasn’t even a sleeper bus, but a tour bus that they had pulled out of the reserves. (Speaking of reserves, this is the first time the Japanese military has called upon its reserves!) So it wasn’t as comfortable and I didn’t get slippers or a footrest and the seat didn’t go back as far, but I didn’t car. When we got on they made some announcements about Tochigi (an area north or Tokyo) that I didn’t really understand, but in the middle of the night when I was rudely jarred awake by deafening jolting bumps in the road I figured that's what they were warning us about. Other friends that made that trip after me all posted on facebook about it, so I’m glad it wasn’t just us. Those bumps are definitely new, and I’m curious as to how they repaired the road. Quickly, I guess.
Coming back to the city was weird. On the train, they have tv screens where they show train information and little snippets of news. They listed a bunch of trains being out of service: some local trains were out because of rolling blackouts in the city, and some shinkansens were out, with cause listed as “Earthquake.” Gee, ya think? (Those screens haven’t changed, even now.) The news was all about Fukushima, which kinda irked me. The day I got in they were showing how three workers had to go to the hospital for radiation poisoning. What about the tsunami victims, come on!
I still kinda get that feeling sometimes, that everyone is worried about Fukushima more than trying to help out those affected by the disaster. I guess I shouldn’t; there are still fundraisers everywhere, and one of the counselors at my new school is going to be going to Iwate to help some of the kids in shelters there.
Speaking of reactions to everything, the governor of Tokyo, Ishihara, who is quite controversial, called on people to stop the flower viewing parties that always happen at this time of year, to prevent people from going out and partying when there’s so much suffering going on. A lot of people weren’t having it though, and some people went and did hanami right in front of the building where his office is. There was even a sake brewer in Iwate who released a Youtube video (Japanese only) telling people not to show self restraint, and if they want to help to buy liquor from the regions affected so spur economic growth, which sounded much more sensible to me. The hanami parties I went to had people doing that. I think it’s a lot more effective than telling people to stay indoors. Also, the entertainment business is suffering, because of the same reason, it would feel weird at such a time, so a lot of clubs and venues and stuff are having charity events. Good for them!