Bringing the learning home (Australian Learning & Teaching Council)

When the earth moves…

“Is everyone alright? Pls get in contact asap!” That was the first moment I knew something was wrong. A message from one of my close friends in Tokyo at 15:23 on Friday 11th March. I was on a train bound for Osaka to meet up with two friends to see the fabulous Mr Jack Johnson in concert; a tour appropriately called ‘By The Sea’. Unbeknownst to us Japan’s most powerful earthquake measuring 9.0 magnitude had struck the north-east coast, which subsequently triggering a massive 10 metre tsunami that caused catastrophic damage. While we sat eating an early dinner before the show my New Zealand friend received a call from her family asking if she was ok. While she was on the phone I received a message from my family in Australia concerned for my safety asking me to reply if I could. Slowly over the next five minutes we collected a vague outline that an earthquake had struck Japan and had cause significant impact and there was a tsunami warning for all the east coast. Australian and New Zealand news broadcasters knew more about what was happening than we did. That was what concerned us the most; fear of the unknown. Every piece of subsequent information we collected was worse than the one before. I was living in Shibuya and went to Uni in Tokyo, which meant all my friends lived mainly in area surrounding Tokyo. I was highly concerned for their safety but only had limited phone service and could only email them, anxiously waiting for replies. We felt so helpless as there was nothing we could do. As we boarded the train to go to the concert we questioned if we were doing the right thing; I was going to enjoy a Jack Johnson concert while Tokyo, my home, was in chaos. I felt so guilty for being there, travelling during my Spring Break rather than being where I ‘should’ have been.

Jack JohnsonThe concert was absolutely amazing. Jack Johnson and his band are unbelievably talented and draw you into their music. I couldn’t fully enjoy every moment though as my phone was constantly vibrating as I received replies confirming my friends were at least alive and asking if I was alright. Once the concert had ended my friends and I were anxious to find out the full story as to what had happened. We returned to the business hotel we had booked for the night and turned on the television. For four hours we sat in front of the screen, mesmerised by the footage that we saw. Words could not describe what I was feeling; especially when I saw people stranded in the dark at the station that was only 50 metres from my house. The sheer power of nature fascinated me and the destruction that was left in its wake was immense. I felt so removed from the situation even though geographically it was occurring so close. My friends were stranded at train stations, on campus and even at Disneyland, separated from their families and not knowing what they would go home to the following day. It was also challenging because I could not understand all the content of the news bulletins as they were broadcast in Japanese; however, I could clearly understood the numbers of missing and dead that was being reported.

Two days later I arrived back in Tokyo after travelling eight hours on a night bus. Having no idea what to expect I was a little nervous. When I walked into my room my bookshelf was dishevelled but overall Tokyo seemed to be regrouping. Aftershocks continued to occur at regular intervals, differing in intensity and length. Rolling scheduled power outages affected businesses and shops and disrupted train lines, which made travel very difficult. All club activities, and graduation and orientation ceremonies were cancelled at University. Grocery stores were also affected not receiving new stock and dealing with an influx of people buying abnormal amounts of food in case of another emergency. The signs on shelving in the picture have limited customers’ purchases, for example there is a maximum of one instant noodle packet and one bread item per customer. The only grocery items that were in ample supply were alcohol and ice cream! It was good to know that Starbuck was also on hand for all your coffee needs 🙂

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During the week following the earthquake friends on exchange from American Universities were being recalled to America due to the ongoing health concerns and the risk of radiation. Despite sending an email to UOW I waited everyday anxiously checking my email and wondering if I would be the next person to be requested home. I kept receiving emails from friends and family telling me to come home but I wanted to stay. I had created a life in Japan that I was not ready to leave. However, the morning of February 18th I received the email I had been dreading; UOW was withdrawing us from the exchange program and requesting our return to Australia. That same morning I also received an email from the Australian Embassy directing that all non-essential Australian nationals were to return home. 36 hours after receiving these emails I was booked on a flight and 15 hours later I arrived at Sydney airport. It felt so surreal that I was home. I had changed so much but everything else was so familiar yet so foreign at the same time. Less than 24 hours after landing in Australia I was back at Uni organising my late enrolment, beginning classes in Week 4.

I know that I can’t be over there but I don’t know how to be here yet. I know that over time I will adjust to my new reality in Australia and I thank all my family and friends for their support. My time abroad was a life changing experience that I will always keep close to my heart. 本当にありがとうございました。


5 responses

  1. lukebagnall

    Incredible. Wow. How awful. You’ll have a story in that for the rest of your life.

    March 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm

  2. wow! i really enjoyed reading you blog. it is amazing at how much more real things are when you are away and how much more they matter. You hear about these types of situations happening to other people but never to yourself. I hope that you adjust ok back into Oz, i will be a massive shock! i know that if i had to leave now i would not be ready.

    So many thing have happened around the world since being away, the Oz floods, NZ earthquaque and now the Japanese one. Being with these people when these terrible things are happening definately makes you pay more attention, we have had lots of charity events for japan and it increases the community on campus.

    all the best!

    March 27, 2011 at 5:19 am

  3. jangothard

    It was an awesome account – passionate about what was happening but at the same time cool, thoughtful and reflective. I can just imagine sitting through a concert with your phone on silent, wondering what one earth the messages were bringing: hope or despair.

    It must been just awful having your exchange cut short so brutally, but there was no choice for the university or indeed the government. Keep us informed about how things are for you, now you are back – it will be even stranger in terms of return shock, given these circumstances.

    Thank you for sharing this with us; and thank you too Lisa, for your response – I could not agree more


    March 27, 2011 at 5:31 am

  4. jangothard


    You wrote:

    ‘I know that I can’t be over there but I don’t know how to be here yet’.

    That is a poignant and powerful summary of ANY exchange returnee’s feelings. You have expressed it very well indeed.


    March 27, 2011 at 8:50 am

  5. Amazing story. And I’m really sorry that you got pulled out — I can imagine it made leaving and the disorientation even stranger. But thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Seeing things like the photos of the bare shelves in the grocery and the closed escalators just helps to understand the day-to-day disruption caused to people who aren’t involved in the more spectacular stuff, like the problems at the reactors.

    I hope you get a chance to go back when things have calmed down even if it’s just for a visit again in a few years.

    March 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm

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