A Team Japan Unplugged, vol. 2

Earthquake damage to the roads

“Earthquake! Earthquake!”

We were rudely awoken at about 3am to the sound of a loud emergency alert on our mobile phones. It consisted of a loud alarm sound and a polite lady’s voice in very calm Japanese saying “Earthquake, Earthquake”. Moments later the house shuddered with a loud rattle and proceeded to shake.
Thursday, September 6th 2018. We were away at an OMF holiday house right by the sea, about 3 hours drive west of our home in Sapporo. Thankfully, it was not very strong where we were, only about a level 3 on the ‘Shindo’Japanese scale, which measures the effect it has, with 0 being hardly noticeable to 7 being the strongest. Level 3 says, “Felt by most to all people indoors. Some people are frightened … ” Well, it was not felt by the children as they slept soundly through it, praise God!
Anna struggled to get back to sleep, especially when she realised we had no electricity. When I woke in the morning, I had a message on my phone from a fellow OMFer asking if we were alright. Knowing that this was standard OMF procedure in an emergency, I absent-mindedly answered that we were ok. Only later when bleary-eyed I spoke to Anna, did I realise the seriousness of the situation.

Empty shelves at the shops I went to.

A magnitude 6.7 quake had hit Hokkaido, maybe the largest ever to hit the island. Even though the epicentre was about 70 miles south of Sapporo, parts of the city shook up to Shindo upper 5: “Many people are considerably frightened and find it difficult to move … Less earthquake-resistant homes and apartments suffer heavy/significant damage to walls and pillars and can lean.” Electricity was out across the whole island. Some places had no gas or running water. Near the epicentre, there were landslides, made all the worse by heavy rain the day before.

Thankful that we were safe and there had been no tsunami to flee from, we started to assess what resources we had. Food. Water. What battery was left on our phones? Should we evacuate? In God’s providence our decision to stay worked out best. To get home to Sapporo would mean travelling on roads with no working traffic lights. Some roads were damaged by the earthquake and in need of repair. I went out to the shops to see if I could get some food to bide us for the next few days with no electricity or gas. Already the shelves in the shop were looking bare. But there was a sense of camaraderie among the local customers and shopkeepers. In a little over 24 hours, the electricity was back on – a testimony to the efficiency and diligence of the Japanese workforce.

The typhoon blew down the shed next door


Only the day before, we had another power cut for a couple of hours after the worst typhoon that has hit Japan for 25 years. The noise of the wind through the night kept Anna awake and in the morning, the shed next door had partly collapsed. But thankfully, we sustained no damage to the house we were staying in. Going for a jog through a forest after the typhoon had passed, I lost count of how many trees had toppled – large, majestic, strong-looking trees completely blocking the road.
It certainly wasn’t the holiday we had planned – the worst typhoon followed by the worst earthquake. But one of the highlights of the holiday was going outside the night after the earthquake when there was still no power and looking up. Stars filled every inch of the clear, cloudless night sky, made all the brighter by the lack of street lights and house lights that usually dim their beauty. We saw some constellations, a few shooting stars bursting across the sky, some satellites steadily moving on their orbital journey, and the Milky Way in all its milky luminescent glory. A very memorable night.
Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens. …
When I consider your heavens,
   the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
  which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
   human beings that you care for them?

Heading Home

On Friday we headed back home to Sapporo. A friend from church had warned us about the road conditions. With heartfelt prayer, we drove carefully not knowing what to expect. Before we reached Sapporo it was already dark. Most of the street lights were still not working. At one point, I was rather disconcerted to realise that I’d just sped past a traffic light at a junction without noticing it because it was not on. Thankfully, there hadn’t been another car coming from the other road at the same moment!

Roads in our old neighbourhood near the OMF Hokkaido Centre

Once in Sapporo, most of the petrol stations had run out of petrol or had lines of cars queuing up way down the road and around the corner! We were thankful that we’d been able to fill up on the journey with no problem without having to wait at all. We were also able to stock up on fresh food which we had heard was in short supply in Sapporo.

We were not sure what state of disarray we’d find in our home. We arrived to find that some books had fallen off the bookshelves, and a few cupboards spat out some of their contents as we opened them. But nothing was broken or even damaged.
Our experience of being forcibly unplugged from electricity for a while gave us much cause for thanksgiving. We take so much for granted: electricity always available in the house; running water; gas for hot water and to cook with; a mind-boggling choice of foods in local shops; a house that stays standing in an earthquake; safety on the roads; the wonder of knowing that our Father is the one whose majestic fingers put all those stars in the sky and holds the galaxies in their place … and yet cares about tiny little us. Sometimes an enforced unplugging can be good for the soul.
  • Praise God for keeping us safe and providing for all our needs.
  • Pray for those in the area worst hit by the earthquake. Some are still not able to return to their homes as they are unsafe.
  • Pray that many more in Japan would know the Creator God as their Father, the one who provides all these things we take for granted.
What do you take for granted that you should be thankful for?


One thought on “A Team Japan Unplugged, vol. 2

  1. Pingback: Saying goodbye to places | Ateamjapan

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