It was Thursday, March 10, 2011.
I wasn’t really keeping my eye on Twitter, busy with other things. Chatting with my friends. Filling out forms for my summer study abroad in Kobe.
Oh, Japan. My stomach still churns to think of you. I got the news of Japan’s earthquake and Hawaii’s tsunami watch at the same time, but I couldn’t focus on Hawaii. How many friends do I have now in Japan? Friends I chat with regularly, friends I met only once but still remember? Twitter was the only way to tell, checking in on everyone, some hadn’t tweeted in days, the others just hours, their last posts a cry of ‘Earthquake!” and then silence.
“Don’t watch CNN,” a mainland friend warned me, the horrifying live footage of a tsunami sweeping over Sendai.
One of my friends in Japan finally checked in on Twitter, continuing to give a constant stream of updates throughout the night. Japan continued to shake and suffer as people sent out requests for information, “Has anyone heard from so-and-so?” reminding me of the people I’d forgotten to check on.
Anymore I only talk to my Hawaii family in emergencies. My aunt and uncle were heading to my cousin’s house inland. We’d been upgraded to Tsunami warning.
The sirens wailed.
Ever since I was accepted to the study abroad program, I’ve been up to my ears in paperwork and preparations. All of that was abandoned as the tragedy unfolded. I could do nothing but sit and stare at the television, assuring my mainland friends that I was fine, I would be fine.
I lost phone service around 10pm. My mother’s panic was eased only by my periodic updates on Twitter.
One of my dorm mates wandered into the lounge, watching the tsunami coverage in fascination. The news suddenly cut to footage of Japan and she gasped. “There was an earthquake in Japan?” She is from Japan. My heart ached for her, but I could not bring myself to give her the details. How could I tell her that her home country had just been devastated by an earthquake, entire cities washed away?
This was Tokyo, this was the city I’ve visited twice. I’ve walked on that soil, the soil that was ripped apart. I wondered with morbid curiosity if we would still have Japanese class in the morning, if my teacher had gotten ahold of all her loved ones. She is, after all, from Japan. And my Okinawan dance teacher. And my koto teacher. And so many people in the dorms, and so many of my friends on the island, all of them knowing people in Japan, friends and family in Japan.
All but one of my Japan friends had checked in.
The sirens called every hour. The sound had been disquieting in last year’s tsunami event, but in the middle of the night, as the footage from Japan played on the screen, the sound was piercing, unsettling.
I began filling bottles of water, praising myself for the foresight to buy two pounds of clementines earlier that day, cursing myself for never having candles. I live inland enough that the waves themselves are not a problem; it’s the potential to lose power and water for days.
The news was constant, ever since the first announcement, a never ending medley of disaster footage and advice. One of the newscasters had yet to hear from his father in Japan.
The dorm, as before, was eerily calm, as if nobody knew or cared about the situation, as if we existed beyond Japan or Hawaii and nothing could affect us here. A former resident showed up to spend the night, as her current home is in the evacuation zone.
The word finally came that the University would close. I gave up all pretense of doing homework and stared at the television in horrid amazement as the wave came. The water surged up the beach, stopping just short of the highway. The news kept switching from webcam to webcam, pausing to show the ocean pulled back from the beach at Diamond Head so that the reef was showing; a moment later the water came rushing back in.
It was nothing like the tsunami in Japan. The power of the ocean is never to be taken lightly, but it was nothing like Japan.
It was four am. The waves danced back and forth, but there were no buildings toppling. I decided to call it a night. Twenty minutes later my grandmother called, slightly panicked. The East Coast was just waking up to hear the news. I groggily assured her that I was fine, I would be fine, then went back to sleep for another few hours, only to wake up and make the round of phone calls, telling everyone that we’re okay here.
Tsunami morning. The sky is so blue. It’s a beautiful day in Hawaii. But Japan, oh Japan.