So, to recap, I arrived on Monday, found my feet on Tuesday, started training on Wednesday, moved into my accommodation on Thursday and set up a bank account on Friday. On Saturday we were back in training, and it got off to a bad start as I arrived an hour early – the previous training all started at 9.00am, but today if I had bothered to check my schedule, I would have known it started at 10.00am. I wasn’t the only one to make this mistake either, Samson also arrived early. He told me about his efforts to find private accommodation – unlike the rest of us he didn’t fancy a sharehouse, and was living in a hostel until he found a place to himself.
I could have gone back home for half an hour but the heat and sunshine continued to be oppressive, so I decided to stay in the building where at least it was cooler. Eventually the other teachers began arriving and then the trainer. We also had an observer – we were assured he was observing the trainer rather than ourselves – from one of the school organisation’s sister companies.
Today was all about Very Young Learners, up to the age of 6, my personal kryptonite. Bear in mind that on my first day of teaching I have 5 successive lessons with kindergarten students and only half an hour to prepare, so I was paying close attention for as much help as I could take in. If anything I learned how little I know.
Everything was fine until the earthquake. It happened at 3.20 in the afternoon. We had just finished a section of training when the building started shaking, strongly for a good 10-15 seconds, and then less strongly for maybe another minute or two. All the other teachers just looked surprised, I just instinctively announced “oh it’s an earthquake” as if there was any doubt.
Nothing collapsed, nothing fell over or rolled off the desk, so it wasn’t an especially serious earthquake, but both the trainer and the observer who have lived in Japan for over a decade said that was a big one, probably the strongest they had felt in a couple of years. To be clear, earthquakes happen every day but most are so light that you don’t really notice them or it’s no more noticeable than when a large vehicle drives past your house. Our trainer described this one as a “right old rattle.”
As it was happening the school secretary (in Japan they are called “counsellors” just as in Russia they are called “managers”) opened all the doors. The trainer explained that if things did start collapsing it’s better if the door is open, because then it can’t get blocked. This is standard earthquake procedure. The only other thing we were advised is that if it happened while we were at home and cooking then turn off the gas. Most fatalities in earthquakes are fire and gas related, and earthquakes in the evenings when people are at home cooking tend to have higher death rates than those in the afternoon when people are at work. The kids are all taught earthquake drill so probably the best thing to do if the earthquake happens in a classroom is to copy what they do.
It turns out it was about magnitude 5 and the epicentre was in Chiba, which is on the east side of the bay in which Tokyo sits at the top. It was probably about magnitude 3 where we were, on the Richter scale. Japan has its own earthquake scale slightly different from the Richter so there are different numbers for the same earthquake, it’s also stronger at the epicentre than in places some distance away.
After the excitement died down we got back to the training and finished about 6pm. I took a different route home to start familiarising myself with the wider neighbourhood and was pleased to find a street with a little stream running down by the pavement and a couple of parks along the route.
I also had been making a point of checking out all the supermarkets I passed – the main ones I had been in didn’t have tortilla bread but at lunchtime I had found one in Kasai that did sell tortillas, and opportunistically bought a couple of packets. I have now sourced all the ingredients to make fajitas – I even found an Old El Paso section in one of the supermarkets which had spice mixes for tacos that might be passable for fajitas. Diet was always one of my biggest concerns about moving to Japan, seeing as I don’t eat fish or rice, but I’m starting to feel more confident about my survival here.