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An American in Osaka Experiences the Quake

Stephanie Murdock is a 2005 graduate of OBHS. She moved to Osaka, Japan in February 2011 and is working as an English teacher there. Here, she describes her experience of the past weeks’ events in Osaka and the perspective of an American in Japan.

On Friday March 11, as the largest earthquake in 150 years struck off the coast, north of Tokyo, I was on the tram in Osaka. I was reading the news on my phone, and missed the event going on around me. I didn’t notice any additional shaking on the tram and the people around me had no reaction. Later, to my surprise, I received a text,

“Did you feel the little earthquake about 10 minutes ago?”

This is how Osaka first experienced the earthquake, an aftershock felt by many but not all residents. In my second floor apartment, no items on shelves or counters even moved. At company headquarters, friends on the ninth floor were evacuated, but again no damage was done.

The Japanese people were calm and collected in their response to the earthquake. A friend’s video, taken in a park in Tokyo during the quake, captures a calm voice stating in Japanese, “This is an earthquake, please remain calm.” In class in Osaka, Japanese students stayed stoic and attentive while their foreign English teacher felt he was about to pass out.

During the work day on Friday, the quake was barely mentioned. At home later, my boyfriend, Jack McCoy, described how the earthquake had felt in our apartment. He said it was similar to being on a boat in low rolling waves. He had touched one of the concrete walls and could feel it moving.

Over the next few days, the news of the subsequent tsunami and increasing danger at the nuclear power plants in Fukushima unfolded. For those in Osaka, life appeared to continue as normal, with no breaks in power, water or electricity. Grocery stores continue to be fully stocked including bottled water and non-perishable foods.

The prime minister asked that citizens of Japan reduce their power usage to prevent the need to administer rolling blackouts. For a time, the efforts of the public eliminated the need to do so. The reaction of the Japanese people is both humbling and inspiring. The communal spirit of the culture has manifested itself in myriad relief efforts.

At every major train station, there are donations being collected. A Japanese student recounted donating clothes to a co-worker who planned to personally drive several hours north to bring much needed supplies.

The famous icon of Osaka, the neon ‘Glico Man’, as well as many other signs in downtown Dotonbori, have been shut off to conserve power. It is one of few indicators that something monumental has happened.

The U.S. Department of State has recently “authorized voluntary departure from Japan” and chartered flights out of Narita and Haneda airports in the north. Under-Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy said in a briefing on March 16 that these relocations may “[include] relocation to safe areas within Japan.”

As the danger of radiation permeating the atmosphere rises in the areas surrounding the Fukushima plant, reaching by some estimates as far as Tokyo, a study at nearby Kyoto University finds that radiation in Osaka has remained at normal levels. (As reported by Kathleen Chu, “Osaka Hotel Occupancy Surges as People Flood in From Tokyo”, Business Week, March 16, 2011). While long-term effects remain to be seen, Osaka is currently a safe haven for Japan.

Everyone is concerned for those suffering and are doing their best to find ways to help. Our best information is that the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese Media Company, NHK, are heavily invested in rescue and relief efforts and will be grateful for donations.

For more information and to follow the events in Japan, particularly as they relate to American citizens overseas, please see the following links:

U.S. Embassy in Tokyo

Keeping a running blog of events, research findings and regularly updated news from the embassy.

Google Crisis Response

With links to organizations accepting donations, resources and maps of affected areas.

Nuclear Safety Technology Center

Interactive map showing current levels of radiation around Japan.