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Being in Japan during an earthquake

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Posted on June 8, 2015 by Kristy Poisson ’16.

Courtesy: Delaware Valley University Kristy Poisson '16 is a Delaware Valley University English major.
Courtesy: Kristy Poisson '16 From left: Sophie Chou, Kristy Poisson '16, Deedee Chao and Jenni Suever at "Fantasy on Ice."

Kristy Poisson '16 is a Delaware Valley University English major who is blogging about her semester in Japan for DelVal. In this week's post she shares what it was like to be in Japan during an earthquake. Read her intro post here and find out about her first week in Japan here. You can also read about her adventures going exploring in Japan here

Once, again, it’s been a while since I last wrote for you guys, but have I got a story to tell this time.

So some time ago, at the end of April, my friends on the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) semester program and I bought tickets for “Fantasy on Ice” which is this huge exhibition featuring just about all the world famous champions. We are all pretty big fans of skating and because the show was starting off close by, we decided it was a MUST for us to go. The tickets cost about $70, but for world-class skating champions, it was so worth it.

On May 30, we traveled out to Chiba Prefecture to Makuhari Messe and saw figure skaters, including Johnny Weir, Evgeni Plushenko, Javier Fernandez, and Yuzuru Hanyu. It was an amazing experience, being able to see these Olympic skaters first-hand doing what they do best. Everyone in the arena was having a great time. Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures of the skaters so I can’t share the wonder with you, but trust me, it was borderline magical.

The show ended around 8 p.m. and then, we grabbed a quick bite and headed for the train station, which is where the real story begins.

Chiba is actually considerably far from all of our homestays, and mine in particular because I am actually located in Yokohama, a completely different city from Tokyo. So, we knew it was a long way home, but time was running well and we were all sure to get home before the last train of the night. Since we were a bit far, we decided it was best to take the express train home. When the train pulled in, we all stood and moved towards the doors to get on, and that’s when the ground began shaking. At first, I thought I was just so tired that it felt like I was swaying while walking but I noticed that the train was swaying too and everyone around us had this slightly confused and startled look. Well, it didn’t take long to realize it was an earthquake.

This wasn’t my first earthquake experience, but it was certainly the biggest. We decided it might be better to get on the train and sit down than to stand under the big metal awning of the platform, and for several minutes after, the train continued swaying. Phones were out in an instant and everyone was checking to see the severity of the situation. The Japanese earthquake preparedness system is so amazing that instantly we were able the see the epicenter and the magnitude. Apparently there had been a level 8 earthquake out off the coast of Japan near one of its smaller islands and the level where we were was about a 5. No one was injured and no damage occurred, but the train was stopped for 45 minutes while the train lines were checked for damage and confirmed safe. At this point, I was beginning to feel anxious because it was getting later and later and I was not sure I’d make my last train to my local station because I still had two transfers to go.

The train started up again, and I stayed on it the longest out of all my friends, having to take it all the way to Tokyo station to get my next train towards Yokohama. By this time it was about 11 and my next train would take me 35 minutes to my next station, where the last train ran at 12:20 a.m. I would just make it. But as I walked on to the platform, I noticed everyone sitting on the floor as if they’d been waiting a while. I also noticed that there were no trains at any of the platforms in my lines of vision and that the departure and arrival boards were all blank and turned off. And that’s when I knew this wasn’t going to be good. Thus began the many frantic texts, Google searches, and phone calls to find any line that could get me home, or to a friend’s homestay in Tokyo. At this point I was certainly not making it to my homestay because I was going to miss the last train no matter what. After many calls and a slow train ride to Shibuya, on the only line running at the time, and one anxiety packed hour and a half, I was able to stay with my host sister who was staying in Tokyo at a friend’s place. She picked me up at Shibuya station and from there we ran for the last subway of the night to her friend’s apartment.

This was honestly the most stressful experience I’ve yet had, but I’m actually rather glad I was able to experience something like this. It was a test of my Japanese language skills and my adaptability. Just another piece of life in Japan I suppose. You must always be prepared for the unexpected. For now, I’m safe and sound with one heck of a travel story.

-Kristy