≡ Menu

Why Japan hits so close to home

I have always lived in California.

I was born in the Los Angeles area, where I clearly remember my mom telling me about her deep fear of tidal waves (that’s what we called them back then).  It became a sort of family joke.  Until Indonesia just a few years ago.  And now Japan.

I grew up on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the high desert, amidst pumice and other volcanic rocks, along with hot springs and earthquakes.

I’ve lived in California’s Bay Area for more than 20 years. I lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I’d like to never experience something like that again, which was NOTHING compared to Japan’s 9.0 (recently upgraded by the USGS) earthquake + tsunami + nuclear reactors+ oh yes, a volcanic eruption.

If you live in California, you experience earthquakes regularly. It’s part of life here. I don’t feel them anymore, unless they’re at least 5.5 on the Richter scale.  To live in this beautiful state, you play with fire. Literally. Our state is riddled with faults. We sustained millions of dollars in damage from the tsunami.  We’re not that far from Japan, geologically, when you think about it.

Many of our buildings have been retrofitted for earthquakes.  Our workplaces implement emergency plans.  We all know what we’re supposed to put in our emergency kits/backpacks (do you have one?  I do!).  I imagine a whole lot of Californians are restocking their emergency kits right now.

Japan’s unimagineable tragedies hit too close to home here in California. I’m sure other states and countries can say the same.  I watched online news all day yesterday, awash in empathy, tears, fear, anger, shock, horror.

Japan is part of the Bay Area’s culture.  My neighbors, colleagues and friends are all personally affected, at some level, desperately trying to confirm that their friends and family living in the devastated areas are OK. That all are accounted for.

This earthquake didn’t just affect Japan.  It affects all of us, from tsunami warnings and damage, to potential nuclear fall out, to devastating one of the world’s largest economies.  Our planet has been changed, thanks to a 4-6.5″ shift in the planet’s axis (I’ve seen both figures, 6.5″ being the most recent).  Our planet’s axis was shifted!

Moreover – and this is coming from a totally non-touchy feely person – our sisters and brothers and parents and children – our global family – are hurting. Pets, livestock and animals are gone. Loved ones are gone. Homes are gone.  Family treasures are gone.

We all watched the tsunami waves build in size as they neared the shore. And the utter devastation as they pulverized boats, homes, businesses, vehicles.  In other recent disasters, it was hard to figure out what was really going on.  I remember being so confused about the Indonesia tsunami. Katrina.  The earthquake in Chile.  As social media becomes increasingly mainstream, news spreads so much more quickly.  News is now reported by anyone with video capability on an iphone/other cell phone.  We experience it nearly live.  Unedited and raw.

If you’ve stuck it out this long, thank you for listening to my diatribe.  I’m finding it difficult to just “carry on” this week, given the enormity of this tragedy, which is still unfolding.  I need to respect the enormity and historical significance.  Our great great grandchildren will one day be quizzed on this in grade school.  Many of us will have forgotten most of  this by that time.

And many of us, myself included, will never forget.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Cat Ivins March 15, 2011, 5:20 AM

    They are this morning reporting catastrophic radiation exposure and telling people in Japan to stay inside – the world is changed now. I am old enough to remember Three Mile Island and for a few days when we thought it was going to melt down (and no one knew then what would happen if a meltdown occured and the ‘experts’ still don’t know) and how scary that was and my family making plans of where to go. This could leave a large area of Japan uninhabitable or worse. I have always hated the 24 hr news thing and their fear mongering and there is always hope but I do think the news coverage and internet is bringing everyone around the world together by this- I have family on the west coast who went to the movies the night of 9/11 (the east coast family still isn’t speaking to them) – I don’t think anyone anywhere is going to the movies right now.

    thinking of you – thank you for the eleoquent posting Brenda!


  • brenda March 15, 2011, 8:55 AM

    I agree, Cat – we can be as much of a part of this as we want thanks to the news and the private citizen photos and videos – and that is both a good thing (because it is bringing folks together as we figure out how to deal with this, both individually and collectively) and a not so good thing (I haven’t had a good nights sleep since Friday – I just made the connection – and my nightmares are not much fun). It’s a challenge to figure out what’s “right” and just needing a break from it all – and my several nights of nightmares seem so trivial compared to 100% loss of family, pets, home, vehicles, belongings, basic needs.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective! Three Mile Island was one of those things that I didn’t really get, living over here on the West Coast. And absolutely 9/11 – a complete game changer – I’ll never, ever forget. (The movies!?)


  • Elena March 15, 2011, 7:43 PM

    Brenda, thank you for this post. I have been transfixed by the events and repercussions of the past few days and glued to the BBC News live feed.

    One of the reasons this feels more close to home than any other disaster of global proportions since 9/11 is that my family and I lived 100 miles away from Chernobyl when the nuclear reactor exploded there in ’86; we left several years later for the US primarily because of this circumstance.

    There are many other reasons, some of which I am still trying to comprehend, why this feels very visceral.

    Thank you, again, for this post.

  • brenda March 15, 2011, 8:13 PM

    Oh, Elena, I had no idea. Chernobyl seems like yesterday – hard to believe it’s already been 25 years. I can’t imagine what you and your family and friends went though, but I’m positive that Japan’s nightmares are affectingly you very very deeply.

    “Visceral” is the perfect description for this.

    Thank you for sharing this – I’m finding everyone’s stories so amazing, profound and touching.

    xo Brenda

  • tiffany34 March 20, 2011, 10:19 AM

    I can’t believe how bad it has gotten in Japan. Anyone who lives near a fault line should pick up some emergency supplies for the future. There are lots of sites like http://www.buyearthquakekit.com where you can pick up some basic supplies that might save your life. Thoughts and prayers to those in Japan.

Leave a Comment