Jim here, from Smith’s School of English, Sagamihara. Ten years ago- March 11, 2011, 2:45pm, I had just said goodbye to two students. One Minute later, the building started shaking. Initially, I thought nothing of it, because we are used to small tremors here in Japan. But this one was different, intensifying slowly and lasting several minutes. I got out of the building and into the street with the rest of the residents. There was no panic. Electrical power went out. My next student showed up for his 3 o’clock lesson. We sat down on the curb and had a nervous chat for a few minutes, and he went home. Fortunately, he lives in town and didn’t need public transport. As we all know, it was a very bad day for Japan. But I would like to highlight all of the goodness that I witnessed that day and days thereafter here in Sagamihara Japan.
Safe in Tokyo
Tokyo and the Kanto region didn’t suffer any significant damage. Structures in Japan are built to withstand even the strongest of earthquakes. Indeed we were very lucky. My wife and son were in Tokyo at a theatre watching “The Lion King” musical. They slept in the car that night and made their way back the next morning. My daughter was on a train with a friend, and some kind man drove both of them home. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to take a long, slow walk around town to see what was going on. What I saw reaffirmed what I had already known. Japan is a good place to live.
People Helping People in Sagamihara
Traffic lights were out. The police and even some of the citizens were directing traffic. Trains were not running, so the lines at the station for busses and taxis were very long. But the people remained calm and patient. No one was complaining. Convenience stores were dark inside, yet the owners stayed open, allowing one or two people in at a time with a flashlight to purchase two items. Walking past a local bicycle shop, I noticed a long line out the door and into the street. It was selling out quickly. The calmness and cooperation among everyone was really impressive.
What really struck me was the police presence and what they were focused on- moving traffic and organizing people, clearing the train station and department stores, concentrating on safety. In other countries, I have no doubt that they would have been setting up defenses against looters and fighting crime. There was none of that here. Only people helping people. I went back to my school/apartment a few hours later. It was dark and cold, and I realized that I wasn’t fully prepared for this.
A knock at the door… Ms Yamamoto, a former student of mine was checking up on me and offered me a plate of food. She had just walked 6 hours from her office in Hachioji, Tokyo. Amazing, kind friend.
Smith’s Head Office Support
At just about midnight the power returned. I turned on the TV and was shocked to see what was occurring in the north, realizing how lucky we were in this area. My Facebook page was loaded with “Jim are you okay” messages. In the meantime Mark Smith had been trying to get in touch with every Smith’s English School in Japan, so I was finally able to confirm to him that I was okay.
The next morning I went to the supermarkets to find empty shelves, and to a home center to find everything gone- flashlights, batteries, candles, etc. I had plenty of food and water but was lacking the other necessities. You can bet I learned a big lesson and that I’m fully prepared now.
I also received a phone call from Mark Smith. Nothing about business, but rather “how are you going up there, Jim.” I told him what was going on, and to my surprise, the next morning I received a large box loaded with all the necessities, express mailed from Osaka, compliments of Smith’s Head Office. Surprising, unexpected support. People helping people all over town and a CEO helping his franchise owners. I will never forget. To read more on the incredible support we receive, go here- https://sse-franchise.com/unprecedented-support-smiths-school-english/
What happened in the weeks to follow were scheduled blackouts in order to conserve energy, meaning that some of my classes included wearing coats and learning by candlelight. Students continued to come and no one complained. Every one of them had a different story to tell about that day. As the infrastructure steadily improved, necessities became more available again, and we went back to living our normal lives. Everyone learned something.
The Goodness of Japanese People
While a disaster is never a good thing, this one did reinforce some of the positive aspects about living in Japan. Their resilience, the cooperation, the lack of crime, the respect for each other, and the kindness of Japanese people, just to name a few. Natural disasters can occur anywhere at anytime. Earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan, but we don’t live in fear here at all. The citizens accept it and are prepared, buildings are strong, and emergency plans are in place in every city and town. Fact is, we love living here and doing what we do, since 1996. Sagamihara Japan will always remain a good place for me to live and work!
Until next time,
Jim, Smith’s School of English, Sagamihara. http://smithweb.co.jp/sagamihara/
Jim, your comments are warm and timely. It’s certainly good to be here in Japan at anytime, but when there’s a crisis, it’s that much more reassuring. I, like you, feel lucky to be here.
Thank you Les!