Friday, March 11, 2011

Thinking about Japan

Last night before I went to bed I caught some of the horrific footage on CNN of the tsunami sweeping across the coast of Japan. When they said the earthquake had been an 8.8, I thought to myself... Is that even possible? I lived in the Valley during the Northridge quake in 1994 - that was a 6.8 - and it seems impossible that an earthquake could be thousands of times more powerful than that one. But the images on the news tell me it must be true.

Ironically enough, it had been an earthquake that caused me to go live in Japan in 1994. I had been living in the San Fernando Valley near the Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys border when the Northridge quake hit in January of 1994. I got bounced around quite a bit, and the Valley took some mighty hard hits. But I was lucky. Some people got killed in that earthquake. I was living on the second floor of an apartment building and had minimal damage for the shaking I experienced. But I do remember being amazed that I had items shoot out of my refrigerator from the force of the shaking and go sailing across my living room.

Business and commerce were really messed up after that. Thousands of people moved away in fear....even though most of them eventually moved back. Things got so tough economically that I decided I needed a break. I contacted some people I knew in Asia and spent a good part of 1994 living in Osaka, Japan and Seoul, Korea.

I taught English in both places. In Japan I lived in Osaka, in a newly developed neighborhood near the World Trade Center buildings. I have so many great memories of Japan....

I took the Midosuji subway line to go to work in Central Osaka. I hit golf balls at their many convenient practice ranges. I went shopping for Onigiri at FamilyMart (their version of 7-11). I partied on the Dotonbori bridge (area pictured above). I bought cans of beer out of vending machines. I drank my favorite Japanese sports drink "Pocari Sweat". I hiked in the mountains and visited temples in Kyoto. I went to an American football game, played by Japanese university players, in a stadium in Kobe. I remember hitting my head on tops of doorways because most Japanese are under 6 feet tall. I remember getting my hair cut in a salon in Osaka and trying to give the girl a tip, but she wouldn't take it. Not part of their system there.

I was amazed at their low crime rate. Everyone left their bicycles unlocked. And nobody stole them. In fact, in Japan is it not uncommon for people to leave purses or cell phones behind by accident...yet if they come back hours later...their items are sitting there untouched. How noble is that?

The TV game shows in Japan are so wild, it is difficult to describe them. They have their own professional baseball league there, and their fans are passionate and devoted to their teams.

I even had a Japanese girlfriend at the time. A girl named "Chiho" who worked at the Sanwa Bank.
She couldn't speak English very much, but somehow we seemed to make things work.

I have many fond memories of my time in Japan and I have a great amount of respect for their people and their culture. I know they will recover, because they are actually used to this type of thing. They frequently suffer powerful earthquakes. This one will be extra tough because of the damage. But they will be back.

They are a resilient and hard working people.

After getting hit with two atomic bombs in World War 2, they rebuilt -- and within 30 years they had one of the most powerful economies in the world.