Dreaming Big in Japan

Friday, March 18, 2011

We’re where we’re at now

We are in Aomori City now and have been here for a full week so far. The drive after we got on Route 4 heading north was much less harrowing than the first leg out of Kuji. With the power still out and the few street lights the Japanese usually have on the roads anyway out as well, it was remarkably dark.

At one point we stopped to stretch our legs and for Michie to hop into the driver’s seat. After all the traffic had passed it was pitch black save for the star speckled sky and an ivory sliver of the moon. It was eerie at first to be in a relatively well populated area yet to not be able to see much of anything. But an overwhelming sense of calm settled over us with the realization that we were safe for the first time. We just had to make it to Michie’s brother’s house and then we could let our guard down a little, rest and face the aftermath the next day.

The trip north in an absolute blackout went exceptionally smoothly, mostly because the traffic signals were out as well, so we just flew throw countryside and towns alike. Once we got much closer to Aomori, a few major signals were flashing, possibly still running emergency batteries. But the first flicker of light we saw, other than oncoming headlights and a few brake lights in our lane, was from a solar charged battery run weather station. It was -2°C (in the high 20s°F), and it started to snow and snow and snow. As we gained ground further north the mounds of snow on either side of the road rose ever higher. 

We stopped once more outside of Aomori to stretch a bit. Before we took off, we both jumped online. Michie emailed her sister-in-law and we got a message back from her cellphone that they were all ok, there was no power, and they buried a few beers in the snow for us! I started to type a message of my own to my family back in the States, and noticed that Skype was ringing. It hadn’t worked for as long as we had our mobile connection, but I saw that my aunt was calling and hurried to answer it (so we can receive calls, but can’t make them...go figure!). I let her know that we were alright, and she let me know my mom was still worried (even though I had already emailed her before we left Kuji, but I guess that’s moms for you!). She must have called my mom right away, because before I could type the next line in my email to my family, my mom called. I reassured her we were alright and heading to a safe haven.

We got back on the road and were in downtown Aomori City before to long. I had never been here before, so I am not really sure what I missed on the way on, but we could certainly make out a the first and second floors of much large buildings through the flurries. As we got closer to the center of town, there were a few signals flashing, and several important looking buildings with lights on. They appeared to be emergency shelters and a few prefectural government offices, all on emergency diesel generators. We got lost at the last minute, did a couple U-turns and pulled up to our relatives’ house just before midnight.

It was quite a comical sight as we pulled up, as I saw four dimly lit faces bobbing up and down in two separate cars. Michie’s brother and our nephew were in his car charging his cellphone battery. Our sister-in-law and our niece were doing the same in her car. I didn’t ask until just now, while posting this, what they were doing. I just thought they had turned on the heaters to stay warm, but didn’t make the connection until now. Thankfully they were able to do so, and to stay in touch with us in guiding us north.

I hugged everyone, actually bear-hugged them until they coughed a bit, and then my nephew latched onto to me, only letting go later when I took my coat off inside. We stood outside for a while talking and reveling in the safety in numbers we were adding to. We looked up and noticed all the constellations for the first time, and we tried to make out the tracks of the Milky Way. Just then a brilliantly bright shooting star graced the night sky. We were safe and sound.

Once inside we were washed over in the warmest orange glow of candles flickering in a large soup pot on the table. Miraculously, they had a battery powered kerosene heater pumping out waves of unexpected heat. I felt awful at that moment knowing that most family’s in Japan had the kind of heaters that plug into the wall (as central heating is almost non-existent) requiring electricity to initially ignite the kerosene they all burned and turn the fans that spread the heat.

As we tucked into a mountain of cold rice balls, leftover from the early closing of the ramen shop Michie's brother manages, and a delicious platter of sauteed Brussels sprout leaves (from the gas range), we were served snow-chilled beers of a sort that had never tasted so good! We shared the day’s experiences and then slowly slipped into our sleeping bags right there in the living room, relieved at last.

There were a few temblors throughout the night, but they could not break the peace Michie and I found on the tatami mat floor at this safe haven we were blessed to reach.

1 comment:

  1. Rick & Michie,

    How incredibly inspiring! Love and safety to you both and your family/friends in Japan. We're proud to know both and look forward to reading your journey online! Love, Jen & Robby