Tuesday 16 January 2018

Standing up to nature's tantrums is Japan's default setting

Peter Popham

Earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan -- perhaps the most fundamental one. When I moved to Tokyo some years ago, I wrote home to tell my family of my first earthquake experiences. "Surely you mean tremors," they replied. "We haven't heard anything about an earthquake."

But the distinction between a quake and a tremor, so apparently obvious in Europe, is not one that impresses the Japanese. A jisshin is a jisshin, is a jisshin. It might start as a tremor, a vaguely sensual, rocking sensation under one's bottom accompanied by a faint squeaking in the rafters, but where is it going to end?

Most just fade out after a few seconds. Others, like yesterday's, start mild and harmless. But then suddenly the walls are heaving back and forth and there is a deep rumbling coming up from the foundations -- then you know it's time to dive for cover, under a table or into the lavatory, taking care to leave the door ajar so you can escape later should it become jammed in the frame.

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