Almost exactly three years ago, I was walking around Nikko in Japan with Micah and Mary S., and distinctly remember thinking how geologically interesting the country was. Mountains, interesting rock formations everywhere you looked (outside Tokyo), and thermal baths and hot springs in every town from the northern to southern tip, not just in some obscure South Dakota backwater like in the States.
The kind of place you could spent weeks outdoors exploring because there was so much going on, seismically speaking.
That day I also remember the three of us discussing how the country knew it was overdue for another big one. It totally blew my mind that at any moment, a type of natural disaster that knows no season could strike and leave everyone pretty much trapped on what is a relatively small island in the world. It's fair to say this stayed in the back of my mind for the rest of the trip and I really hoped it wouldn't happen while we were there.
Of course, it didn't. But now I think we can reasonably conclude that this was indeed The Big One we were talking about in Nikko that day.
And for the record, yes, that is me with short hair.
I know a lot of people are blogging about this at the moment, but this earthquake is definitely the closest I've come to feeling I could have been part of it, on a different day. The closest major city to the epicenter was Sendai in Northeast Honshu. My college girlfriend Mary taught English there for two years and we trekked up to visit her there in 2008.
Sendai has had it rough! It was nearly obliterated in WWII--hit much harder than many other areas. And whenever you hear that some previously-considered-inedible part of a cow is the delicacy of a region, you can bet it's because at some point in history they had nothing else to eat.
So even though the city didn't have as much of the retained Samurai-era architecture of other more impressive towns--like Nikko (which, come of think of it, has been largely rebuilt as well)--you wanted to cheer for Sendai for simply being alive and kicking.
Ueno Park, Tokyo
The Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season is just starting in the southernmost parts of Japan and will work its way north in the next couple months. The weather bureau of Japan even issues a blossom forecast every year so people don't miss any of it. It's truly beautiful. And I've personally only seen the very early weeks.
It's really sad that this earthquake--aside from its obvious destruction of people and places--is taking a lot of cherry blossoms with it. Not that the Midwest has anything to complain about (because we don't), but that's kind of like taking away one of our summers completely and immediately starting Winter #2 with a new 30 feet of snow.
That would still be better than an 8.9 earthquake. Short of writing a sappy, maudlin post about how I'm so connected to Japan, my heart does go out to them. Living on the Ring of Fire can't be easy.