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Inside Looking Out: A Perspective on the Japanese Earthquake

Looking for a first-person account from an anthropologist in Japan? Guest blogger Pamela Runestad, a PhD candidate in medical anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, shares her experiences during and after Friday’s earthquake in a piece called “Inside Looking Out: A Perspective on the Japanese Earthquake.” Here is an excerpt:

At 2:40 pm on Friday, I got on the highway bus to make a trip I’ve made several times this year in the course of my research in Japan: Shinjuku Station in Tokyo to Nagano City. It takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes and, much like Japanese trains, the bus runs on time to the minute more often than not. Friday was different.

We’d been on the bus long enough for me to take off my coat and shoes and settle into my seat with a book. I made it to page 4 when the bus, stopped at a traffic light, started to bounce. Yes, bounce – like a bounce house kids play in. I looked out the window and saw the traffic lights and electric poles moving wildly, violently. Earthquake, I thought; BIG EARTHQUAKE. People began running out of buildings covering their heads, then clinging to each other on the sidewalk. I hastily pulled my shoes back on, tying the laces with fingers made clumsy with adrenaline. (Yes, I was getting ready to be urban survival woman.) I noticed that the bus was completely silent. Really? No screaming?

The bouncing stopped.

In a flat voice, the driver made use of the microphone to say, “It appears we experienced an earthquake.” Well, YEAH! He kept driving.

Stunned, I turned my eyes from my silent, terse fellow passengers and fixed my eyes on the scenes we passed outside. As I looked at the people on the other side of the glass, I realized: Shinjuku had stopped.

To read the full piece, go to the Triangle Center for Japanese Studies.

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