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Surviving an Earthquake in Japan

As I was growing up, I was taught to be cautious about many things. In high school, we were living in California, and there was an earthquake in the middle of the night. My mother made everyone get up and run to the front door of the house and stay in the doorway saying that it was the most structurally sound place of the house. We were all supposed to carry our pillows with us. The excitement was high, and we were all scared.  When we went to school the next day, everyone was talking about what they did during the earthquake. It had scared everyone!

While I was still in high school, we moved to Oklahoma. They don’t have earthquakes in Oklahoma, but they have tornadoes.  If you have ever seen the movie “the Wizard of Oz,” you have seen a tornado.  They are big dark funnels that drop down out of the clouds, and everyone runs from them.  In Oklahoma, they have special storm shelters built in many yards where you can go to be safe from the tornado if you see one coming.  My mother grew up in Oklahoma, and if it was storming out, she paced from one end of the house to the other constantly looking out the windows if it was stormy.  When I stayed with my cousin, it stormed, and her dad did the same thing.  When I became a college student at Oklahoma Christian College, they taught us to take our pillows and go downstairs and sit in the hallway if there was a storm coming.

lightning and tornado hitting village
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I learned that you were supposed to try to get away from natural disasters.  I heard horror stories of earthquakes where the ground opened up and people fell in or of tornadoes.  A tornado blew the back porch of someone’s house off over in Moore, Oklahoma, or a tornado flattened a trailer park. My brother was in a trailer once when there was a tornado, and it picked up the end of the trailer and moved it over, and my brother was in the that end of the trailer.  If you are in a tornado, you are supposed to run and hide. If you don’t have a storm shelter, lay in a ditch.  If you are in a earthquake, you are supposed to find a place that is structurally sound and take your pillow.

two women in yukata near market
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I went from Oklahoma Christian College to Ibaraki Christian College in Japan as an exchange student.  It was my first semester, and I was staying with the Nogi family.  I slept on the second floor.  They had put a futon, a Japanese style bed on top of a western style bed for me.  My bed was super comfortable!  We lived in a large wooden house. Mr. Nogi was an architect, and his business was downstairs as well as at the other end of the house.  The rest of the house was where the family lived on the second floor.  The house was completely made of wood.

close up photography of woman sleeping
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I woke up in the middle of the night, and I realized everything was shaking!  It was an earthquake!  What should I do? should I run outside?  Should I try to find a sturdy doorway?  My mother wasn’t there to tell me, “Come on! We need to find a safer place!”  No teacher was there to urge me to go to a safer place.  The Nogi family seemed oblivious to what was happening.  If they had woken up, no one moved.  I thought to myself, “Should I run outside?”  I realized that if I ran outside, an earthquake was not like a tornado, and you couldn’t get away from it. The ground would be shaking no mater where I went.  What if the ground should open up? I would rather be on my bed and fall in a hole on my bed than off my bed.

I realized there was really no where I could run.  the house was made of wood, and wood have give.  The Japanese don’t build huge towering concrete buildings like they do in Korea. They build their houses of wood because of the earthquakes. The family must really trust the way Mr. Nogi had built the house because no one even made a peep. They just stayed in their beds.  I decided that there was nothing I could do. If the earthquake was going to get me, it was going to get me no matter where I went, so I should just stay put. I rolled over and went back to sleep, and everything was fine. After a bit, the earth stopped shaking.

brown wooden door near body of water
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The next day, people were talking again, but the excitement I had encountered when I was in California over the earthquake just wasn’t there. The people were used to earth quakes.  They built their houses to withstand earthquakes. Many had done just what I had done, woke up, thought a bit, and then rolled over and tried to sleep again.  Some didn’t even realize the earthquake had happened.

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