It's been approximately a month since the first earthquakes hit, so I figure it's time for an update.

After I posted that last entry, I spent most of my time with some other ALTs and stayed the night at another's apartment because the building next to mine had some structural damage that forced the residents to move out and made me nervous. Things with the plant were still looking really bad, so five of us decided to make the trek to Tokyo.

Because the trains and buses were down, this was much more difficult that usual. A normal trip cost about $25 and took about 2.5 hours. This trip took much long and was much more expensive. The five of us split two taxis to Mito, which is normally a 30 minute train ride for 470 yen ($5), and was instead 10,000 yen ($100) and an hour ride. From Mito, we took a bus to Tsukuba (another 2 hours or so and 1,000 yen ($10)), then the train from Tsukuba to Tokyo (I think 1160 yen ($12)). However, the trains are only running at half capacity, so we had to wait 3 hours for them to start running. But eventually we made it into Asakusa, where we got a hostel and enjoyed running water for the first time in several days.

Wednesday we spent around Tokyo, mostly in Shibuya and Roppongi and met up with everyone else who fled Ibaraki. Thursday we tried going to the American Embassy, but that ended up being kind of pointless because we didn't really have a reason to go. Friday I spent on my own because I needed a quiet day, so I visited a couple different gardens and watched a street performer in Ueno park. Saturday I met back up with a few people still left in Tokyo, but we ended up going our separate ways and I spent the rest of day in Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine.

By Sunday, the buses were mostly up and running, so I could take a highway bus directly from Tokyo Station to Hitachi for about $25, so I decided to head back to my apartment and start packing up because I had a week before I was leaving the country.

That week was spent packing or throwing away everything I own, closing my postal account, making final payments, sending stuff back to the US, and various other errands completely on my own. I was only able to go to my school for a short time to pack up my things and say a brief goodbye to my teachers. I didn't get to say goodbye to any students, which I'm still very sad about.

But somehow I made it to the airport with my bags (which was a whole other adventure in and of itself), and after a short side-trip to Chicago, arrived back in Kansas City.

I've been back a few weeks now, trying to get over jet lag and some culture shock, and in about a week and a half I'm moving again to Utah to try to find a job there. Meanwhile, I'm still tying up loose ends from Japan (I have yet to receive two of my paychecks). And of course, just keep up with what's going on in Japan and with the people I know who are still there.
Friday afternoon, I was sitting in the teacher's room, reading and waiting for the day to end so I could head home. There were no classes in the afternoon because kids were getting ready for the school's 50th Anniversary Ceremony the next day.

At about 2:45, the ground began to shake. It was just a small rumble, not uncommon in Japan. But then it suddenly got a lot bigger, like turbulence inside a big plane, but on the ground. There were only about 5 or 6 of us in the room at the time, and someone turned on the news, but the power was cut almost instantly. The shaking continued for a long time, but wasn't severe enough to evacuate. Then it finally stopped, and a few teachers came running back in for information, while those already there began to clean up. The teacher who sits behind me apologized for her papers falling all over.

Then the second earthquake hit, much stronger and faster than the first. The vice principal announced over the PA system to get out, and the other ALT and I followed the other teachers outside.

The Homeroom teachers each lead their classes outside where we all convened in front of the school. I remember worrying about my shoes, because we wear different ones inside to keep the school clean. But everyone ran out into the dirt and mud in their indoor shoes. (The front of our school is undergoing construction - our new school building was just completed in January.)

Students were either crying and scared, or thought the whole thing was a joke and a great break from working. These were all 1st and 2nd year junior high school students, so about 13 and 14 years old.

We wait there for a long time, and the shaking stops, but aftershocks hit every five minutes or so. Soon, the VP decides to move the students a little further away from the building. We move to where the track would be, and it's pretty much the safest place in the area, as it's high in the mountain, away from the beach, and in an open area thanks to construction.

It's cold though, and we didn't have time to grab coats or anything. I had grabbed my phone, but that was it, and that was near useless since my prepaid plan had expired the day before. I was planning to buy more minutes that night. But with the chill, it was sometimes hard to tell if you were shaking from the cold or from the ground.

We waited outside for maybe an hour and a half. I entertained some kids and distracted myself by talking to them in Japanese, which they still find fascinating. I was also translating as much as I could to the other ALT, who speaks almost no Japanese at all.

Around 4:30 or so, they decided to send everyone home, because there was nothing more that could be done, and they wanted the kids to be with their families. We got sent home too, and went back in the building to quickly grab our things and go.

On the way home, I saw a few downed garden stone walls, and some damages shingles that had fallen or broken glass, but that was about it. Once I got home, I went inside for a moment, but the aftershocks were still really strong at that point, so I went back out to my parking lot to wait, which was a fairly safe place to be. I tried to go to a friend's place, but I only knew the building and couldn't find the apartment.

Eventually, it got to be too cold and it didn't look like the aftershocks were going to stop. So I went back inside. Friday night was the worst night. There was no power, heat, or water. My dishes and things had fallen out of the cabinet and shattered, and my room was a complete mess.

My phone died almost right away, because of no battery power. My kindle had a bit of power left, and I used my still-chaged computer to charge the kindle's battery as much as possible, but then I could email and use twitter to let people know I was alive.

That night, I spent huddled in bed, with my coat on and my bag and shoes right next to me. I didn't sleep well at all.

Saturday, I woke with the sun, and even though the sun rises at about 5am, it sets at about 6pm, so I needed to use the daylight as best I could. I tried to find my friend's place again, but failed, and decided to try to get some more food, drink, and information.

Power was still out, but some stores were selling goods by hand. The market I went to let people in 30 at a time, tallied totals by hand with managers naming prices. Most everything sold for normal prices, if not cheaper. People were polite and patient and very kind. Store workers still shouted "Welcome" and "Thank you for shopping with us." While I was waiting in line, someone came around with newspapers, and I was able to get a first look at what happened in Sendai and Tokyo, as well as a little more information on the quakes themselves. I could check CNN on my kindle, but only for a short time, and couldn't get too much info.

The rest of the day was spent looking at damage, and that was about it. The most I really saw were the walls and damages roofs. I couldn't get in touch with anyone else. Saturday night wasn't as bad as Friday, but it wasn't fun either. Aftershocks still shook my apartment.

Early Sunday a couple other ALTs found me at my apartment and let me know where everyone was gathering. I made plans to meet up with them later. Until then, I went down to the beach to see the damage from the tsunami. We only got about 2m, and most of the city is up on a cliff, so there was no damage to houses. Just a few boats overturned or sunk.

Sunday night we were all together, which was a welcome change. The power came back on, too, after 54 hours, so were could recharge everything and get in touch with people and get more information. We thought we got water back, but that seemed to be a bit a of a fluke.

So now it's Monday. I went to the store again today and bought more food and water, and have been trying to get more information, though it's been very hard. My biggest concern now is the 70% chance of another magnitude 7 earthquake closer to Ibaraki than before that might happen in the next few days. Also the nuclear reactors. The ones in Fukushima are about 100km / 50mi away, so I'm not in the evacuation zone, but there is another plant in Tokai, which is only 15km away. It's supposedly stable right now, but another quake could be bad.I knew several people who have gone to Mito or even Tokyo. The trains aren't running right now, though, so it's difficult to go anywhere.

Right now, all I can really do is wait. There are still aftershocks going on.
Yes, I know it's been awhile. Once again, sorry for the gap.

So Saturday was Parents Day / Observation Day. Since so many parents work during the week, the school holds classes on Saturday and has a holiday the following Monday to make up for it.

What this means for me is I have a 6 day work week, ending with a bunch of people watching me embarrass myself.

I actually wasn't that worried about it in the beginning. A few parents would come watch, and I would do the same lesson I'd done the day before with a different 2nd grade class. It was an easy small group activity, so most of the pressure was on the Japanese teacher.

However, I get moved to work with a first grade class instead. And I'm going to be the main teacher for the majority of the lesson. Surprise!

First period, I have a class (unobserved - people don't come until about 4th period) with the first grade JT, and he models the lesson for me, using almost all English so that I'll be able to do the same thing (I'm not really supposed to use Japanese with my classes, except for vocab). I take a few notes, and the lesson isn't a hard one because it's all things the class is used to doing normally, so I'm not really that nervous.

Then I learn that 15 English teachers from different schools and different parts of the prefecture were coming, too.

Then, just before the observation period, I saw the never-ending stream of parents and siblings enter the school.

Then I got nervous.

I should maybe clarify here that my role in classes is usually very much the assistant teacher. The only time I'm leading an activity is for vocab flashcards, and reading practice. The rest of the time, the JT does his thing, occasionally asking me to pronounce something, or answer a question to demonstrate the grammar. Very minimal thinking on my part.

But when there are visitors, the school wants to show off. So class becomes just that much more difficult.

I had about twenty people watching my class at any given time. Parents could move from class to class if they wanted (and did, because watching a kid take notes is boring, no matter if it's your kid or not). Our rooms are a little bit different from normal classrooms, because there's a work area to the side with lots of open space, and the whole room is open to the hallway, which is open to the class next door, and so on. So people just stood pretty much wherever they wanted on the whole left side, with a few people against the back wall. Mostly the English teacher visitors.

The class starts well with our warm-ups. The kids know what to do, they've been well-trained. I'm fairly optimistic. And most of the rest of the class actually does go well, minus the part where a gust of wind from the open window blows paper all over. And the guy in the back of the room with a video camera at hip level. But, like I said, I end up being the main teacher for almost the entire class. The only thing my JT officially does is the grammar point and note-taking for the last ten minutes or so. He even commented afterward that I did all the work, and apologized many times for not giving me more notice and for pretty much everything in general, because he's Japanese and he's polite, haha.

After class is over, we go back to the teacher's room for a bit of a breather before the final class of the day (which is back to normal), and parents and everyone are supposed to leave then, though a lot of people just sort of hang around in the main hall. We got our new school building in January, so a lot of parents wanted to look around it (it's a really nice building). On the way to class, the other ALT and I were greeted by a handful of the English teaching visitors, one of which bowed really low, which was embarrassing, but hopefully a good sign. They were all very nice.

After school, the teachers will meet with the visitors and parents in a meeting at another building to discuss various things. And then there's a drinking party, where the parents drink enough to really let the teachers know what they thought. The second grade JT always tells me how much she doesn't want to go, but she wants to improve her teaching (and it's mandatory) so she goes. The ALTs aren't invited. Instead, I went home and took a nap. :)

And that was my Saturday.