Tag Archives: Japan

One Page at a Time

Growing up in Iowa, I developed an insatiable desire to see the broader world around me. I would look through binoculars over the cornfield that stretched out behind my backyard, blinking and squinting and imagining the lives of the families living on the other side. At dusk I could see lights go on and off in little window specks. Were there kids inside those windows, making faces as their parents sent them to bed? Did they read the same stories before falling asleep? Those houses felt a world away, but, similar to the worlds inside of books, gave me a hope to one day see what else was outside my little town tucked inside the fields in the heart of America.

I was a quiet kid obsessed with stories. TV shows such as Full House introduced me to big city life as well as big family life, sending me into daydreams of a lifestyle very different from my own. I wondered what it was like to attend a three-story, fenced-in school on a busy city street, to travel by subway, and to grow up living in a high-rise apartment with no yard for dogs or flowers or tomato plants. Anne of Green Gables sent me dreaming of the opposite, of a place where I could be free to wander and roam in the country surrounded by acres of animals, wildflowers, hidden paths, and nothing but time.

I remember when my great aunt Lorraine told me she’d been to all fifty states. I wanted to know if she’d seen the Grand Canyon, the coast of California, the White House. She helped my travel dreams seem attainable, especially since she was someone from my own family.

The Midwest is the perfect place to foster a dream for travel. Especially small town Midwest, where kids grow up curious about the other side of the cornfields. When you have to travel 70 miles for the nearest (substantial) mall, or for the restaurants advertised on TV (Oh the days when The Olive Garden and Chile’s sounded like luxury cuisine), even Starbucks carries with it an extra special appeal. Sipping a mocha Frappuccino during a Saturday shopping trip to Sioux City felt like turning a page in the proverbial book of life experiences—a book with chapters not limited by distance. Every city, every neighborhood has its own character, each street and structure, down to each person.

When I travel I look for the ubiquitous, that little something that helps me connect to the world around me.  While acclimating to New Zealand’s summertime in January, I was thankful for the familiarity of the English language. When handling money in Japan I took comfort in the 10 decimal place to know how much I was spending. These connections aren’t to say I didn’t look further, but they did serve as a basis for seeing where I’m from in a new way—whether politically, educationally, by cuisine, or otherwise. When I see how other places function, I question if things here are the best they can be.

A similar outlook is sparked when I read. For example, dystopian literature such as Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games series feature fictional worlds with (quasi) believable futures. If this is where we’re headed, then how can it be prevented?

I believe that when reading and travel are combined, there’s no end to inspiration and understanding. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road inspired me to keep pen and paper with me whenever I leave home. I don’t snap a lot of pictures when I travel but instead rely on words to bring me back to a specific time and place, and to the people I interact with. This is what gives me hope in the modern day world—recording what I see and know and learn—and it’s why I plan to never stop chasing new scenes, in life or in the imagination.

Advertisements

Quake

IMG_1153 copy 2

Approx. 2:30pm

I’m chatting with my mom over Facebook, attempting to convince her in the most electronically reassuring tone possible that I am, in fact, very much alive. We did feel the earthquake, but up here in Sapporo, we’re well removed from the ensuing tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown.

My husband and I were eating at a popular second-floor soup curry shop with our Japanese friends when we felt the quake. Derek’s legs jiggled compulsively under our lunch table, so at first it didn’t concern me that my soup was mimicking a scene from Jurassic Park. Not until he said, “Is the whole building shaking?” with a nervous laugh.

Outside, lampposts wavered precariously in the street. Iron fixtures and concrete foundations never felt so unreliable as in the moment Naoki told us that we were experiencing our first Japanese earthquake. He and Yurika were excited for us, taking pictures of our bemused faces. Then they eyed each other and frowned.

“This is lasting too long,” said Yurika, her lower lip puckered out in confusion.

My heart raced and I gulped in deep breaths of air to slow it down. A waiter came out and turned on a small TV mounted to a wall. A multi-colored map of the country lit up the screen, red indicating the greatest damage. The earthquake’s epicenter had reached a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter Scale (the highest being 10.0), and here in Sapporo we’d felt a 3.0.

I’d underestimated the lack of control that an earthquake can elicit. The lack of anywhere to go–whether inside or out, higher up or underground–where you can’t feel the shaking. There’s nothing to grab hold of to steady yourself. Feet are unreliable.

The aftershocks lasted for hours; the first of which we felt from inside a nearby Pachinko Parlor. The cacophony of slot machines cycling thousands of little metal balls through their thick groves of pins, the TVs at full volume declaring public transit closures, and the rumbling echo of exposed heating vents, did little to disguise the reality that dozens of people just lost their balance at the same time.

With an uncharacteristic scowl, Naoki left to catch a train back home to Chitose. The rest of us decided to do the same, boarding a jam-packed shuttle through the city.

In Yurika’s apartment, I sit next to her grieving family as we watch the helmeted news anchors update us on the death toll; thousands are missing, nine hundred (the number growing by the minute) are confirmed dead. Aftershocks will likely continue for months.

An entire country has felt this disaster–in their homes and in their hearts. I suddenly feel as though I’ve overstayed my welcome. It seems inappropriate to be American in this time and place. I can escape; I can cross the ocean to where radiation isn’t an immediate threat to my well-being. Where many people haven’t even heard of the tragedy, let alone succumbed to it.

Derek wants to stay and help with the recovery efforts. But how? And is it practical? At times like this, family matters most; and in their minds the most helpful thing we can do is return to them in safety.

Friday, Mar. 11th, 2011