Dordt College News

Waiting out the tremors in Japan

August 17, 2011

Ryan Schaap

Ryan Schaap (’05) has been living in Japan for more than five years.

During his first two years there he worked at a large private English school called Nova.

When the company that ran the school went bankrupt, Schaap and three of his coworkers decided to start their own school. They’ve been working 60 hours a week for three years now and run two schools, both in Chiba prefecture (which is located just north of Tokyo) with over 400 students.

Schaap says this spring’s earthquake didn’t do any major damage to their offices—although they did lose quite a few dishes! They continued to get frequent and strong aftershocks that rattled them during lessons, but they gradually became quite used to them.

Some of Schaap’s students have connections up north and have lost some relatives or friends. “It’s tough to hear these kinds of stories, but in typical Japanese fashion they seem to be coping very well. It’s in these times that I am in awe of Japanese people. It has been a real learning and growing experience for me to see how they deal with these events. Enviable, in fact,” he says.

What are things like now, more than a month after the earthquake?

To be honest, it’s been a real roller coaster. Things here in Tokyo haven’t been nearly as tough as things have been up in the Northern areas, but this disaster is just relentless, even up until this writing. This morning we had about four earthquakes that were over a magnitude of 6.0, which is pretty crazy to experience. Over the past month Japan has had nearly 700 aftershocks—700! Even when the aftershocks aren’t happening, we often feel like our bodies keep moving a bit.

While there aren’t any threats of real food shortages here, there has been a run on things like rice, bread, meat, milk, and some toiletries. That makes it hard to feel like things are getting back to normal. Also, businesses and public places are cutting back on energy usage, so many lights and services have been turned off. It affects the atmosphere.

Describe what happened during the earthquake.

I was cooking lunch for myself in my kitchen at the time it happened. Because earthquakes are so frequent in Japan, I just waited patiently, expecting it to end after about 20 seconds like they usually do. Except, this one didn’t end, and it kept getting bigger and bigger. Things started flying around the apartment. My dresser did a nice flip, my plants spilled on the floor, the TV started wobbling, and the refrigerator came forward. An earthquake is such an unnerving thing to feel. Videos can’t do it justice. It’s terrifying when you don’t trust the ground below you and you’re on the fourth floor of a building. At that point my building was swaying and even though buildings here are built to do that, in my head I had thoughts of Haiti and the recent earthquake in New Zealand. For about 30 seconds I thought it was at the end of my life and that was going to end up being another statistic. However, I was able to make it down the flights of stairs and join other neighbors who were waiting down below and outside.

Where are you living now?

I’m in that same apartment, in Shin Koiwa (in the outskirts of Tokyo). Luckily, the building didn’t suffer too much damage other than a few nice cracks in the walls, so I’m still able to live here. However, some of my friends who live in older apartments are making plans to move out of their current residences.

Are you in danger from the radiation leaks from the power plants?

I don’t think so. There has been a LOT of sensationalism in the western media about this. Yes, there is some radiation leaking out, but the amount has been much lower than that of an x-ray. Even in a worst case scenario meltdown, I think people in Tokyo are pretty safe. I wouldn’t stay here if I didn’t completely feel that way. The science all points to us being safe and that is far more important to me than what other sources are saying.

What can you say about how people in Japan are dealing with the disaster?

There is no looting at all around here and people are doing all they can to help each other. It’s in times of crisis when you see a culture’s true colors. I have been really impressed and blessed to see firsthand how these people have dealt with this adversity. The Japanese are an extraordinary people.

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