Wednesday, August 10

The Earthquake Revisted.

Dawn of the First Day

                March 11th, 2011, Koganei, Tokyo, Japan. I sit in my chair happily reading webcomics in my dorm room, contemplating what to do for the day. The week before I had just finished my travels across western Japan and this week I planned to enjoy and relax my Spring Vacation.
                “Perhaps I’ll go get some Ramen.” I thought to myself. “I haven’t had FuuFuu in awhile.” FuuFuu Ramen was a noodle shop down the street with the best Tonkotsu Ramen ever to grace my mouth. Their service and atmosphere was unparalleled, always welcoming you with a smile, warm greeting, and any manga (Japanese comic book) of your choice. Their wall was bookshelf, 5 feet high 15 feet wide, full of manga.
                Before I get up I receive a Facebook chat message from one of my friends in the states, David. I hadn’t seen David in 6 months, so I recommended a Skype Video call. It was around 1:30pm JST. We covered a variety of topics; ranging from martial arts (we are both Black Belts in Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do) to Asian women, we even touched upon the topic of earthquakes comparing our experiences.
David has lived in Los Angeles for almost a year, a UNC-Charlotte alumni, he had never really experienced them before moving to LA. I, being in the same boat, had never really felt one till I came to Japan.
My first earthquake was one during class. We were taking a quiz in Japanese class when I felt the building shake. We were on the basement floor of an 11-story building. My first thought was, “Who’s shaking my desk?” I looked up to see everyone just staring into the middle distance when someone finally said, “Earthquake?” The shake lasted a mere 5 seconds, and we continued on.
                I explained to David that earthquakes were quite frequent here in Japan. I even showed him my “Earthquake Detector”, a Chinese lantern I bought with David in Chicago’s Chinatown hanging off a tack in the middle of the wall.
                At 2:46pm JST – 9:46pm PST – I felt an odd sensation and glanced over at my Chinese lantern, it was shaking.
                “Oh, I think we’re having an earthquake.” I said, quite relaxed.
                “You may want to get under a dorm frame” David replied with much more concern than I.
                “Nah, it’ll--” I was interrupted mid-sentence by the intensity of the quake. The room was now shaking at such a force it was difficult to stand. The earth was roaring. I have never heard such an unsettling sound. I ran to the doorframe and held on looking down the hallway to my fellow dorm-mates. David continued to watch from Skype, helpless.
                The quake had been raging for about 10 seconds at this point when I see a fellow study abroad student from England holding his doorframe, his name was Aaron.
                “This is Mental!” Aaron exclaimed. He had never felt an earthquake before. It certainly was as I think back on it, quite Mental.
               The room was shaking like a toy, the ground continuing to roar. About 20 seconds in, which felt like an eternity, Rob, a fellow study abroad student from Seattle, wanders down the stairs looking completely out of it. I yelled at him to come here and he ran into my room and held the doorframe with me.
                We were yelling at this point. David continued to watch, showing his girlfriend his view. The quake was not letting up. I hear other people from within the dorm yelling. I look out once again into the corridor, seeing Aaron standing in nothing but his underwear watching the walls shake. Then the giant medal fire-doors closed between Aaron and I, they separated the corridor into two sections – a west and east side. That did not sit well with him as I heard his displeasure from behind the doors.
               The earth continued to shake like a child throwing a tantrum. Then, finally, after 90 seconds of extreme displeasure, it tapered off. Adrenaline was flowing. I quickly ran out to the balcony and ran up the stairs to the fifth floor to take a look at Mount Fuji, maybe she had had enough. She sat there, observing Tokyo from her distance. Silent.
                I returned to my room a few moments later. David was still on Skype. Still shaking, I slumped into my chair attempting to laugh it out. Not sure what to say, I sat there a few seconds.
                David broke the silence, “Ed. Next time, man, just leave.” David’s advice was sound. People were up and about; everyone in the dorm was unnerved, even the seasoned Japanese were not sure how to handle that.
                The earth wasn’t done and began to shake again, this time not nearly as bad.
                “I’m going, man” I told David and closed the chat. I ran out of my room to greet some of my dorm-mates in the hall downstairs.
                “Just an aftershock?” I thought aloud. Takuya, a Japanese student, nodded in agreement. We walked to the Laundry Balcony and watched at the power lines swayed. Everything else seemed to be in order. Takuya joined us, “I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
                “The fact you said that, doesn’t comfort me, Tak.” I whimpered.  Quite simply, it made me more terrified. The group of us wandered back to Aaron’s room, luckily he found his pants, and we researched the strength of the quake. We got varied numbers all above 7.5 on the Richter scale.
                I walked back to my room, still feeling aftershocks. Each time my heart sunk, “was this the next big one?” I sat in my chair. I was beginning to get used the quakes, a thought scary in and of itself. I go to to see what the rest of the world has to say. The BBC was saying 8.8 and CNN was saying 7.9; either way, that crazy. I posted my thoughts on Facebook.
“Was it 8.8 or 7.9? Fucking hell… I’m still shaking and so is the earth…” -3:45pm 3/11/11
                My research led me to the origin of the quake. At 2:46pm JST, 81 miles off the coast of Sendai, Japan (231 miles from Tokyo) an 8.9 earthquake occurred near the surface. The next focus was now on to the massive Tsunami heading towards Sendai and the eastern coast of Japan. The tsunami was rumored to be catastrophic. We Tokyoites were not concerned as we were far enough inland that it wouldn’t be feasible for the wave to affect us. But, Sendai and the eastern coast were in severe danger.
                The tsunami hit the coast with a 30 foot wall of water – instantly destroying towns, cities, and effecting millions of lives. The devastation would scar the country for months.[1]  The tsunami was now heading to the Philippines, Hawai’i and the western coast of the United States at 500 miles per hour; damage was minimal in comparison.
                It wasn’t long before we realized the effects of the earthquake. All trains in Tokyo had stopped, people were walking home. Our friends who decided to hike the nearby Mount Takao became aware that they would have to walk home – all 17 miles of it – they arrived back around 1am. Cellular networks were bogged down with people trying to reach love ones. After an exhaustive effort, we were able to account for all of our friends. Some were stuck in Yokohama, others were stuck in Shinjuku; but, everyone was safe albeit shaken up.

Dawn of the Second Day

                I woke up to another aftershock, around 5am. This one was rather large, but certainly not as large as the original quake. The aftershocks made it difficult to sleep. I kept thinking, “Will the next one be the one?”
                I made it to breakfast, an unprecedented event, and sat dumbfounded watching the news while I ate my food. The tsunami had destroyed Sendai, a city which a few friends and I visited a few months ago. I couldn’t fathom the destruction and watching it on TV didn’t make it any more real. I felt as if I was living in a dream.
                The tsunami had done more than taken thousands of homes and lives; it also caused a nuclear power plant to melt down. Fukushima Plant No. 1 was no longer able to cool itself, threatening a large area. Luckily, Koganei, the city in which the dorm resides, was outside of the affected area by a great deal; but, if the winds changed then we could be in danger.
                Due to the Power Plant’s shut down, black outs were to be enforced throughout Tokyo. We decided to go on an excursion for candles to keep us entertained. It was then that we noticed the severity of the situation.  Stores were closed; our local super market was closed, FuuFuu Ramen was closed, McDonalds was closed. The stores that were open had lines and once we were able to get in, we realized they didn’t have candles. Local convenience stores were picked thin, bread and water were scarce. They had plenty of Coca-Cola and Beer, though.
                We returned to the dorm, a failed lot. No candles were in Koganei. We reserved ourselves to our rooms to await the black out. It never came.

Dawn of the Third Day

                As March 13th came about, the dorm-mates and I were worried about food. The dorm provided us with food on the morn and evening of everyday but Sunday. March 13th, 2011 was a Sunday. Ryouchou (Dorm Head) told us we didn’t have food for Sunday and there was nothing he could do. We set upon the town once again in the search of food. Luckily, FuuFuu Ramen was open again, as was McDonalds and several other restaurants; most places were open they were just running on special hours. This would be the case for several days to come. We ate and returned home.
Life began returning to normal. The threat of earthquakes and black outs were the most unnerving; people began to head home (wherever that may be). My University would eventually pull the program for me to study in Japan and I would return home several days later. My life has still not gotten on track. I battled depression; longing for the country and dream from which I was pulled from. In hindsight, as I watch the lucky people who got to stay in Japan come home, I can’t help but feel bitter. They got to experience what I could not. It pains me to this day.
My focus has shifted from trying to graduate on time – a futile effort – to trying to return to Japan as a student. Come hell or high water, I will return. I will finish what I started.

[1] As of August 2011, most towns are still in ruins.

Sunday, July 17

Four months...

It's been four months since my unforeseen return to the United States and I'd be lying if I said it's been an easy four months. Since my return, I've been battling depression, loneliness, and overall unhappiness. Not to say that happy things haven't happened during this time, but I have been longing for the time I spent in Japan and wishing my abrupt and forced retreat had not happened. Obviously I am not alone in my circumstance.

As stated, I have had enjoyable happenings in these past four months. I visited all my friends, joined a new martial arts school, and dated a nice girl. I was luckily welcomed back by one of my best friends, David. The very same individual who I was skyping with while the earthquake took place. He was visiting his family in Charlotte on a vacation from his home in LA. Him being there during a very troubling time help put my mind where it needed to be. Also, my other friends, Chris and Jeremy, made quick visits to make sure I was okay. Jeremy actually picked me up from the airport as my dad was out of town for Saint Patrick's Day. Something, however, was noticeably different about me being back. My friends had moved on.

They moved on -- as I expected them to, but my expectation didn't prevent my chagrin. Chris met his fiance and they are to be married. Jeremy is busy with work. David lives in LA pursuing his dream. Here I sit in Charlotte, doing nothing. To make things worse, a close-friend and I had falling out with-in two months of my return. I, ultimately, became very lonely.

Shortly after my return, however, I began seeing a girl who I had interest in before I left. We went on a few dates, those of which were a blast, but it wasn't meant to be. No fault to either of us (we're still friends). But, I made matters worse by becoming too attached too quickly. Who could blame me, though? I felt distant from all of my friends, I had no one with whom I could just chill with. I went from living with roommates to living in a dorm with 20+ friends. I got used to having people around. And going from that to no one was hard to handle.

The aforementioned falling out resulting in a precarious situation with my martial arts. Luckily, I had a good friend who welcomed me with open arms to his gym. I've begun training there regularly and enjoy the people there very much -- the training is very different than what I am used to and I look forward to becoming a better martial artist because of it. I'm also teaching the kickboxing there on the nights I can make it -- unfortunately it's about a 20-30 minute drive and sometimes I just can't make it.

Also, during this refuge period, I took a make-up class at UNCC to catch up on some of the credits due to the lost Spring Semester. Going into it feeling pretty disgruntled -- my fellow ryuugakusei refugees felt the same way -- we were quite surprised and, I'm speaking for all of us, actually enjoyed the class. The professor was quite awesome and seemed to understand our situation; he had lived in Japan during the great Kobe earthquake in the 90s.

Due to the earthquake, my future is in a state of confusion. I'm just not sure what I want to do or how I want to go about doing it. I certainly want to go back to Japan, but I'm afraid I'd be chasing a dream or idea that isn't real. Like, would I just be going to relive the happy times I had in Japan previously, or am I going for other reasons? Hard to say -- and unfortunately I'm the only one who can say. Do I want to forgo the return to Japan and just focus on graduating and return later (post-graduation)? Or, do I botch Japan altogether and focus on my Martial Arts -- perhaps opening a school after I graduate? What of grad school? So many questions and I can't decide what I want or can do. I'm not getting any younger, I ave to decide eventually.

These four months have been tough. I am still lonely -- I miss Japan greatly. I miss my friends, greatly. But, I look at the people in Sendai and realize my life is not nearly as tough as those that have lost everything. I envy their resilience. Although I am growing older, I still find that I have a lot to learn about myself and the world -- and that, plus my friends and family, allow me to find the strength to continue on. That, and the want to go to a Konbini again...

Thursday, March 24

America, why I didn't want to come back... like this.

I am officially back in the US. Part of me is glad to be back, considering the chaos the country is going through one less foreigner to feed it probably a good thing. It doesn't make it any less difficult. The decision to return was not of my own doing. My home University pulled the study abroad program for all Japanese Universities in Tokyo and Nagoya for the Spring Semester. It pains me greatly to see it have come to this. Our decision to stay or leave was of no consequence; we should've be allowed to stay at our liability.

My Japanese was finally starting to click -- things were making sense. I was starting to truly take the language seriously (being surrounded by like-minded folk helped, a lot, too). Next semester I was scheduled to take an Intensive Japanese course, one that would be three hours a day, every week day. With that class, I know my Japanese would sky-rocket. However, now that isn't to be the case. I couldn't be more disappointed.

So, being back in America... What does that mean for me and my education? No idea, honestly. I am back, that is the only thing for sure at this moment. UNCC has yet to decided what is to become of my Spring Semester, we had some preferences and I chose Independent (but, still guided) Study from now till end of Summer Session.

I miss Japan and everyone I met there greatly. All my Koganei lads, all my Sophia brethren, all of them. I am surely lost.

Now, I have a few options... Sit and mope about being back in America or Make the most out of the situation. I have chosen the latter and have already gotten back to one of my passions: Martial Arts. It didn't take long, but I've already been back to the Dojo training. I am currently in the process of setting up several Goals for myself involving the Martial Arts to keep myself motivated and on track. More so, I've set up some Goals to keep myself motivated in other areas of my life as well.

Here are some of my goals.....

  • Advance in my Martial study
  • Continue to Study Japanese
  • Finish my Comic/Manga/Doujinshi thing
  • Focus on school (as much as my Uni will let me)

Now that I am back in the USofA, do I continue my "Gregor the Wizard vs Japan" idea? Or will this be the last entry? I honestly don't know yet. I've seen people, more motivated than I, stop such endeavors upon their return. I believe a few more entries are in order, honestly. The next few will be a series on my Spring Break (while it lasted) and my 大冒険 (Grand Adventure) with Aaron and Greg...

So Stay Tuned for those! Thanks for reading, people!


Thursday, March 17

It has come to this, people

Ladies and Gentleman, it pains me to do this. But, I am being forced to leave Japan -- through intimidation and coercing. I do not wish to leave, but my treacherous University has pulled my program. I know it for my health, but there is no chaos here. There is only a country working hard to overcome a disaster. It pains me to do this, but my University, as of yet, has not offered any financial contribution to my plight. So, due to this, I have created a Donation service using PayPal. The money donated will help me get out of Japan with my belongings and get back safely. Please know, in the event that my home University decides to fund my exodus from Japan, then I will refund said donations.

This is a big shot to my pride, but I do not see any other way. I'm sorry...

My dreams have been extinguished and cut short -- I am currently lost emotionally and really don't know what to do.

Thank you so much,



Any exceeding amount left over, if there is any, will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross to help them in this "chaos"...

Tuesday, March 15

The Plan

So, as it sits now, Japan and my future in it sits in limbo. With the Nuclear Power Plant (原子力発電所) melting down, radiation is a huge fear amongst the people. More so, the shortage of food and water makes life that much more troublesome.

Luckily, I live in a dorm where breakfast and dinner are provided. That takes a huge burden off our shoulders; for lunch, however, we are on our own. That's fine most of the time, but with the power conservation a lot of businesses have been closed -- from our local Wal-mart (called Seiyu here) to our McDonald's. Today they were open, thankfully. It seems most establishments are choosing to be open every-other day. Japan is amazing in its uniting around power conservation -- perhaps only in Japan.

Several of my Uni friends have decided to leave, which leaves me in a precarious spot. Do I leave or Do I go? (Isn't that a song? haha)

If I leave, I guarantee my safety from radiation, tsunamis, and further earthquakes. But, I will sacrifice a semester of my college career -- then I'll graduate in December of 2012 (My 111th Birthday!) More so, I'll be in danger of forfeiting my financial aid -- most of which went to lodging and my recent Grand Adventure around Western Honshu -- and am not able to pay it back. Lastly, if I leave, I can't come back (not soon anyway). Some fellow Koganei lads have left to return before school starts in April -- I simply lack the funds to do that.

Now, if I stay I will continue my studies on time, get better in Japanese (next semester I am joining the intensive class), and make more Japanese friends. However, I allow myself the danger of radiation, tsunamis, and further earthquakes. Since the major earthquake, we've had several aftershocks -- some of which strong enough to wake EVEN ME up. Radiation isn't a huge problem right now, the cloud is staying to the north and blowing northward. The tsunami, unless we're talking Deep Impact, won't get me. Earthquakes... yeah, those get me all the time. Also, in staying, I get to partake in the food shortage and rolling blackouts -- but, I have food at the dorm provided by Sophia University.

It's a precarious situation, indeed. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Leave a comment and tell me what you think. I'm making my decision at the end of this week on whether I stay or not. Keep in mind, I really want to stay; but, I'm wondering, is the writing on the wall?

Till next time, Wizards(?)!

Sunday, March 13

The Quake to end all Quakes.

Friday March 11th, 2011. I sit in my chair happily reading webcomics, contemplating what to do with the day, already half spent. It's around 1:30pm JST when I get a chat message on Facebook. One of my best friends from the states, David, wants to Skype. Eager to see a friend I haven't spoken with in the past 6 months, we begin our Skype conversation. We speak on various topics, from women to martial arts, even touching upon earthquakes -- comparing our past experiences. Both of us had only felt quakes with minimum effect. This would become ironic by the days passing.
At 2:46pm JST -- 9:45pm PST -- still skyping with David, I feel an odd sensation and glance over at my Chinese lantern haning from a tack on the wall. It was shaking.
"Oh, I think we're having an earthquake..." I stated, very relaxed.
"You may want to get under a door frame," David replied, showing quite a bit more concern than I.
"Nah, It'll..." I was interrupted mid-sentence by the strength of the quake. The room was now shaking with such a force that it made it difficult to stand. I quickly ran to the door frame as David got an eye-witness account through Skype.
Holding on to the door frame, I glance down the hallway to see my dorm-mate, Aaron, holding his door frame as well.
"This is mental!" he yelled from down the corridor. It certainly was. The ground was thundering, creating a horrible sound as my room was being shaken like a toy. David watched helplessly. The quake had been going on for about 15 seconds at this point -- what seemed like an eternity. Rob wandered down the stairs, I beckoned him to come into my room. He did so, grabbing the other side of the door. We were shouting at this point. I look down the hall, Aaron was still there; then, the emergency fire doors close. These doors are massive steel doors that are closed via magnets on the wall. Once they closed, I could no longer see Aaron, that didn't sit well with him as I heard his displeasure from behind the door.
The earth continued to shake, as if he were a child throwing a tantrum. About 60 seconds into the quake, it tapered down. Adrenaline was flowing freely.
"I have never been that scared," I thought aloud.
I ran off to see Mount Fuji, maybe she finally had enough. She sat there, observing Tokyo from her distance. Silent. I returned to my room a few moments later.
David was still on Skype, not sure what to say. I laughed it off, but honestly I was terrified. I was shaking. I slumped into my chair.
"Next time, Ed. Just leave, man..." David's advice was sound. People were up and about, everyone in the dorm was quite unnerved, even the seasoned Japanese were not sure how to handle that.
Then, the earth wasn't done. It started, again. This time not nearly as bad.
"I'm going, man." I told David via Skype. I closed the chat and ran out of my room to greet some dorm-mates downstairs.
"Just an aftershock?" I thought out loud. Tak, a Japanese fellow downstairs from me, hinted that it probably was. They didn't stop. I'd return to my room only to feel more. I didn't know how to handle them. My heart raced every time I felt them. We had between 4 and 5 big aftershocks with in the first 2 hours. A few of us gathered in Aaron's room to determine the strength of the quake. We got varying numbers, but they were all above 7.5.
Outside on the Laundry balcony, a few of us gathered to look at the street below. Everything seemed to be in order. Tak then joined us and said, "I've never experienced anything like that."
"The fact you said that, doesn't comfort me, Tak" I replied. Quite simply, it made me even more terrified. I walked back up to my room and went to research how big this massive quake was.
At first, the news outlets were saying 7.9 then saw a few numbers suggesting 8.8. "Either way, that's huge," I thought.
The aftershocks continued, gradually getting less and less traumatic. At this point, my body was getting used to it -- a thought scary in-and-of itself.

Was it 8.8 or 7.9? Fucking hell... I'm still shaking and so is the earth...

-My Facebook status, 3:45pm 3/11/2011
The quake struck at 2:46pm 81 miles off the coast of Sendai in Northern Honshu, 231 miles from Tokyo. The next focus was the Tsunami. A massive Tsunami was soon to hit Miyagi prefecture and the north-eastern coast of Japan. From there the wave was heading to Hawai'i, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the western coast of the United States. Watch as the Tsunami hits Sendai...

The aftershocks didn't stop for us, they're technically going on still. All the while, a massive tsunami headed Southeast across the open sea at 500 miles per hour. In Tokyo, the trains were shutdown. No one was going anywhere, I was certainly glad to be in the dorm. A few friends of mine were out at Mount Takao, enjoying a hike. They realized what was happening when the got back to the station realizing they couldn't get back to Koganei. They walked home, all 36 kilometers of it. They got back around 1am. Others were stuck in Yokohama or downtown Tokyo. The one good thing, however, was that we were all accounted for. The Koganei lads survived the earthquake.

Now the issue moves from the earthquake itself and tsunamis to the Nuclear Power Plant. The plant, Fukushima, is threatening people within a 12 mile radius with it's deadly radiation. I am hundred of kilometers away and am in no immediate threat to the plant; however, if the winds change, then that could change. Also, to make things worse, they're predicting another large earthquake to strike along the "Ring of Fire" within the next three days. Hopefully, it will not come to pass...

As of today, the trains are back up in Tokyo, there is now a shortage of bread and food -- shortage as in the convenience stores and grocery stores nearby are sold out. The threat of a Nuclear power plant and an impending earthquake looms. Regardless,we lads will stay vigilant. We are safe.

Thank you all for the out pour of thoughts of well-being -- they truly brought warmth to my heart. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. I will keep everyone updated via Facebook, Tumblr, and this blog. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 20


Hey people! Just wanted to let everyone know that tonight I am leaving for my trip around Western Honshu... I won't be able to update -- like, at all -- until I get back. So, for quick updates and blurbs check out my tumblr here...