Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathy Bauer (USA)
Educator (She’s been in Japan since 2001)
A huge earthquake hit Eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. It had a magnitude of 9.0 and caused a massive tidal wave and nuclear accidents. It produced a large number of victims, and it’s also a fact that many foreigners left the country to avoid fear of radioactive fallout and aftershocks.
However, we know there are many people from other countries who’ve decided to stay here. Kathy Bauer, an American woman, is one of them. She’s been teaching not only English but also how to grow up and to be independent to children for a long time. She claims that she will live here through anything as an educator and as a person who has benefited from the country.
It’s not the first time to be in a difficult situation. In America, we had a disaster where I lived in Oklahoma. There was a disaster, there was a terrorist attack in 1995. There was a lot of chaos and I lived 3 blocks away from there! My windows had broken.
Then there was a crisis again. I’ve never experienced such a big earthquake as the one on March 11, 2011. It was the biggest one I’ve ever felt, really powerful. I really felt like the world was going to open up and swallow everything. I really did not expect to be able to stand up again.
I’m an English instructor who works at a school for kids in Chiba, located about 40km east of the center of Tokyo. At that time, I was at my workplace, inside a school building. My students were with me during the earthquake and we decided to go out of the building. But once we stepped outside, we weren’t able to continue walking because the ground was rolling like a roller coaster. The students I was with were 3 years old so they were really frightened, really scared and really unsure what was happening.
There were about 6 children with us. Most of the students had gone for that day, but we had a few students that were left at the school. After the earthquake, there was no phone communication so parents weren’t able to be contacted.
Soon after the quake, trains had stopped. There was just a lot of chaos so the only thing we could do was try to protect children and stay close together until we could get everyone to safety, with their families. I tried to protect them.
Since we didn’t have coats or anything like that, we waited quite a while. After things started to get quiet, we decided to try to go back inside the building. We brought things including their jackets, shoes and bags and decided to stay out for safety reasons. We tried to be calm as much as possible and we tried to keep each other calm.
Aftershocks, coldness, darkness assault on kids
Children were very nervous and hysterical. They looked around and wondered what was happening to the world because you could see the aftershocks kept happening. Even after the main quake hit, the aftershocks were continuous. They kept coming, kept coming.
Luckily we were right in front of the park. We walked into the park after we left the building after the ground stopped rolling so violently. We got to the center of the park and the light poles were swaying back and forth during the aftershocks. That was a little bit of unsettling.
The aftershocks kept happening and we were able to get students calm, and we hugged each other to keep warm. We were outside and it got darker and colder. So that did not help.
Around 5:30PM, about 2 hours after the earthquake occurred, parents were able to retrieve their kids. It was getting dark. We were able to get all the children to their families. They just came to the school. There were no trains and parents were working, or they had to get to the school, they had to find another way such as a taxi or bus. It was very difficult. But luckily all the parents could get to the school and took children to their homes.
Continue our life with amazing people
Even today when we don’t have an earthquake, I don’t think it’s so important as making sure that the air is safe that we breath and the water is safe that we drink for this area. But of course Tohoku has another priority. But their safety is also addressed because they are much closer to the radiation. So if something happens, it’s going to happen to them first.
So all we can do is just to continue our lives as normally as possible until the situation either gets worse or it gets better. But don’t focus on it because there’s nothing we can do. Just focus on what we can do.
This is like the perfect example of how the entire community, entire culture and entire people pull together to be able to maintain a standard of living, even in a phase of crisis. Because we are supposed to have the rolling blackouts, but those have not happened in most of the country. Because people have chosen voluntarily to conserve electricity throughout the country.
I believe that that is an amazing thing to see. All the different companies and all the different businesses that have chosen voluntarily to make their electricity use to half or even one third of what it usually is. I think it’s amazing! I’m not sure that my country as a whole could do it. I’m not sure if we could do it collectively because it’s a big place.
I don’t want to have to change my lifestyle so much because of uncertainty, because of fear. I can see that things are really getting dangerous, but I don’t feel apprehensive about drinking water or using water for cleaning. There are many people who decided to leave Japan because of the radiation fear, and also because of the earthquake or other reasons. But I don’t think that would be the initial response, just pick up and go.
It’s time to give something back to Japan
I don’t think I would want to be in danger. If there’s something within me, if it was to happen, then I would accept that and just try to live out my life as happily and pain free as I could. Because this is where I live and where I chose to be.
I feel foreigners in this country that are long-term, if there’s not an immediate danger, should try to stick it out. Because we’ve been here for such a long time. In normal times, this country has been supporting us, and just because something tragic happens doesn’t mean it’s time to drop everything and take a plane if you’re not in any immediate danger.
Because I believe that this country has provided a lot of support for the foreign community, large or small, however that may be. And we all have some debts to pay back to this country.