It is the sound of the cheap chipboard panels bowing back and forth that wakes me up. The bed is wobbling, but so are the floor, ceiling and walls. Everything is moving in concert, orchestrated by some deep dark force. Oh god. It’s an earthquake.
I stay in bed until it stops. I’m too tired. And, if I’m going to be killed, it won’t matter if I am upright or lying down. The shaking soon subsides. I’ve experienced small earthquakes before and I know what to do. Make sure nothing electric is smoking or broken, then put the TV on to find out what’s happening.
The newscasters are already on the case. “Four twenty-nine AM, Iwate Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture, Fukushima Prefecture, Shindo 4 earthquake.” The precise tones of the announcer are already coming through the speakers of my television before the screen flashes into life. Then I see the map. It is the same map of North-East Japan that made my heart sink every time it appeared during the triple disaster in 2011. Orange shading for Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, yellow shading for the rest of the coast down to Tokyo. The colours look alarming, but it’s not massive in comparison to most of the bigger quakes.
Tsunami warning. ‘Evacuate now!’ The order flashes out on the screen while the dismembered voice of the announcer reads out the same information over and over and over. The alarming evacuation order soon disappears and is replaced with some more refined information. A tsunami of height one metre, due to reach the coast at 4.40. Still, nobody taking any chances. ‘Expected arrival time four-forty Fukushima, four-fifty Miyagi, four-fifty Iwate. Expected height one metre. Keep away from the shore. Waves can quickly get higher. Do not go to take a look.’
News is now reaching Twitter – US Geological Survey, Japan Times, BBC News. It’s 6.9 on the Richter Scale. The story soon fizzles out as it becomes clear it’s not A Big One. However, the announcers are quire rightly taking it very seriously. We get the briefest glimpses of them – young sleepy-eyed men in grey suits – as we switch from the Tokyo studio to first Sendai and then Fukushima. Now some CCTV cameras from ports. Everything seems calm. The sun is coming up, and a few boats are already setting sail. The information keeps repeating over and over.
On the left is a constantly scrolling bar of coastal areas instructed to prepare for the possibility of evacuation. Each and every one says ‘be prepared’. My heart skips a beat when one goes red. Hinan-shiji – evacuation order. The announcers read this out in a matter-of-fact way and the carry on to more news – no problems reported at the stricken nuclear plants, and no faults reported on the railways. Back to the cameras, where we see some small-ish waves lapping ashore in Onahama Ward, Iwaki Town, Fukushima Prefecture. That must be the tsunami.
With that, I fall back asleep. When I wake up again an hour or so later, they are discussing collars for small dogs on the daybreak show. Clearly nothing disastrous this time (the evacuees apparently got home in time for breakfast) but – as events of 2011 demonstrate – the next big one could be at any time.