Fear of Jiggling

posted in: Japan, Journal, Life In | 0
Light and Storm
Storm descending upon a mountain pass, Yatsugatake, Japan, 2003

For the second time in two days the giant catfish upon whose back the inhabitants of Japan live (as the old tales tell) shivered with the deepening cold, and set our teeth on edge as walls prepared to turn to jelly and the floor jumped like the hide of a scratching dog. Today’s tremor was but an afterthought, but yesterday, as I lay down for a short nap before going to my night work, the world bucked up around me for a violent blink of an eye. I leaped out of bed, heart thundering, and so dumb that all I could urge my hippocampus to respond to was to pull on a pair of baggy pants and scurry, illogically, into the bathroom. I stood there staring blankly at the toilet cell’s door (toilets are always separate from the bath room in Japan) until it occurred to me that the earthquake had already stopped. It only registered then that I had had no time at all to even react in a thoughtful manner, which is my usual reaction to most earthquakes.

For anyone who has never experienced an earthquake, well, let me tell you, there are few things that can make you feel smaller or more helpless. Yesterday’s earthquake was a “vertical shaker”, as opposed to a “horizontal shaker”. In the conventional wisdom a horizontal shaker is the norm and usually means that the world is only receiving an adjustment to the television screen. A vertical shaker, however, hits suddenly and very violently, and often magnifies into a major catastrophe, such as the Kobe earthquake in 1995. To describe what such an earthquake is like, imagine standing in a subway or highway tunnel with your back turned toward the oncoming train or truck. Then imagine that that train is speeding toward you from below, accompanied by a fast approaching groan of great thunder. Put this together with that disconcerting uncertainty that you feel in your feet when a huge truck bumps over the road and makes the ground tremor, but magnify it a thousand times. And behind it all imagine that pervading rumble that accompanied Darth Vader as he strode about the Imperial Starship. Then, to make it really scary, imagine the whole world suddenly heaving up all around you in one, giant punch. All you can think of is names like God, Godzilla, King Kong, Atlas, Shiva, or Giant Killer Tomatoes…

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