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‘Jishin da’: A Minnesotan reports from Japan

Allen, Tomoko and Luke Lindskoog
Photo courtesy of Allen Lindskoog
Allen, Tomoko and Luke Lindskoog

“There is a definite somberness and heaviness wherever you go,” said Allen Lindskoog, a 45–year-old Edina native who has taught high school, college and corporate English in Tokyo for five years. “But in Japan, part of the cultural philosophy is that the group comes first, not the individual. I think it is this collective way of thinking that will help Japan pull through this incredibly difficult period.”

As Lindskoog wrote the above email Monday afternoon, he and the rest of Japan felt the latest aftershock from an earthquake that has left thousands dead and missing.

 “You never know if it is just an aftershock or another big one, which I have heard is a possibility,” said Lindskoog. “Japan is known for earthquakes, but there is often talk of the BIG one. It is well known that someday there would be a massive quake. What is not known is when and exactly where. I think this was it. Maybe?”

Lindskoog met his wife, Tomoko, a Tokyo native, while studying Japanese culture and language at the University of Minnesota. Prior to that, he was working as a graphic designer in New York City — 10 blocks away from the World Trade Center — on Sept. 11, 2001. Hard to believe that one man has been in such close proximity to two historic calamities.

“I think having literally witnessed the planes crashing into the buildings and then collapsing was much more of an emotionally difficult experience,” said Lindskoog, who watched much of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake’s devastation on television.

Shaking was longer, with greater ferocity
“I was working at the junior/senior high school in Tokyo. The semester has been completed and all of the teachers were in the teachers’ room finishing up grading. At about 2:45 p.m. on Friday, the room began to shake. A few of the teachers said `Jishin da’ (`It’s an earthquake.’). We are all used to quakes. Usually it is short-lived and a little shaking. This went well beyond that and shook longer and with greater ferocity.

“We are in a recently completed building on the second floor, so it is up to earthquake code. But still it shook like nothing I’ve ever experienced, for 30 seconds or more. There were quite a few aftershocks, some which were just as big. Some of the teachers went under the desk. Smartly, a number of students went to the middle of the courtyard, the safest place to be.”

Lindskoog tried to contact his wife and son by cell phone, with no luck. After 45 minutes he found them safe and sound at a family friend’s house.

“As time went on aftershocks continued, and it also became apparent just how big the quake was. The principal of the school gathered everyone together to make sure everyone was safe and to make announcements about the quake, how to contact family members and get home. Japan is one of the most prepared countries when it comes to quakes, and it certainly showed during the experience at school.

“Trains were completely shut down, but we were allowed to go home if we wanted. By train it takes about an hour to get to school from home. So walking would be quite a trek, but I had an iPhone and Google maps and started my journey home. It ended up taking nearly three hours, but I made it home. My wife and son arrived home about five hours later from a journey that normally only takes an hour.”

Concern over nuclear reactors
The relief didn’t last for Lindskoog, giving way as it did to the sobering prospect of a future in a devastated country.

“The most pressing issue is the nuclear reactor plants, one of which is only 70 miles away,” said Lindskoog, who considers Japan home but admits to pining for his relatively safer Midwestern roots.

“We have been preparing for the worst. Food staples such as bread are completely sold out, as are flashlights and batteries. Rolling blackouts will begin for a few hours in the morning and evening until the end of April to conserve energy. The situation with the [nuclear] reactors [is] still unknown and it is this unknown that is most unsettling.

“Life continues. I am off to my university to prepare for the coming school year, which begins in April. My wife and son are getting ready to go to work in central Tokyo for the day. But we still don’t know what is in store.”

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