At 9:03 this morning, I was sitting in the staffroom of my all-Thursday elementary school when the room suddenly shook. I thought it was a nearby truck, until I realized within about three seconds that the shaking was constant, which was when it clicked that it was an earthquake. It was then that the room really started to shake, like some giant had stomped down hard on the ground outside our building, and another teacher and I kind of dove under our desks and waited it out. It ended seconds later, with the whole thing taking around 10-15 seconds.

It turned out to be a magnitude 5.4 quake (measured as a 4 on the Japanese “shindo” scale, which is based more on what people felt rather than the actual scientific measurement; 4 is moderate, and 5 is when things start falling down), and the epicenter of the quake was less than 20 kilometers (12-15 miles) away, under Shikokuchuo City in eastern Ehime Prefecture, just across the border from us. Almost all the Tokushima ALTs felt it (we flocked to our AJET forum and posted as soon as it happened), and it was felt as far away as western Honshu and eastern Kyushu. We ALTs in the west felt it very strongly (Miyoshi and Mima, the area to our east, were the only parts of Tokushima that registered it at shindo 4; the rest registered it as shindo 3 and 2), and it freaked us all out. Nothing fell off the walls and nobody was hurt–though I think the teachers ran into someone who was on his/her bicycle and fell over because of the quake–but it was pretty scary nonetheless.

(Here’s the USGS Current Seismicity webpage for our region. My town is actually within that orange box, on the right-hand edge.)

The thing that really gets me, though, is that there’ve only been two English-language news articles written about this, on the Mainichi and Bloomberg websites. (I haven’t checked any Japanese-language news sites.) The Japanese site of course referenced the location accurately, but Bloomberg referenced it as happening “on Shikoku, across the Seto Inland Sea from Hiroshima.” (Paraphrased. It actually happened across from Okayama Prefecture, to the east of Hiroshima, but few people in the west have heard of it.) Why is it that the articles that make my friends and family send me anxious e-mails checking up on me are always about earthquakes in northern Japan or somewhere near Tokyo (which, as the title of this blog suggests, I am nowhere near), yet the one time we actually have a quake that did have a moderate effect on this part of Japan–and it’s relatively rare compared to how often the north feels earthquakes–the news is strangely silent about it? That’s what we get for living in the sticks, I guess.

Anyway, this is my second week of spending my Thursdays at this elementary school. I taught three consecutive classes today and am still surprisingly awake–I think because of the cup of coffee I had between classes 1 and 2 and because of the apple I had with lunch. I’ve never taught kids this tiny before (on their own and not part of a bigger mixed-age group, anyway), and teaching the first-years this morning (30 minutes after the quake, no less; everyone had settled down and I was still a bit frazzled) was a challenge and made me feel as uncertain as I did in my early months here. The second-year and third-year classes went a lot more smoothly. It’s really cool to see how confident the kids are on their own, and I like that many of them have warmed to me already, though of course there are still a few timid kids. The second-year girls had even made me a ring out of a daisy, and presented it to me when class started! It was a perfect fit for my right ring finger.

I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about the kinds of things I plan for the classes. I’m still not used to planning for really little kids, especially since the projected schedule the school has given me has me working on introductions and greetings for 2 months, but I’ve already done most of what I know how to do, so after this will just be a lot of review. Anyway, every week I add a little more to our starting/ending greetings (going from just “hello!” and “thank you! See you!” last week to “hello, Miss Sumisa! Hello, [other teacher’s name!”] and replacing that with “thank you” for the end. It’s over the first-graders’ heads, but the second-graders are grasping it more quickly and the third-years are pretty much with me; I just need to back it up every week.

I also did an activity (inspired by something I read on with all 3 classes, where I taught them “good morning”/”good afternoon”/”good evening”/”good night” and had them do a gesture for each (sitting up and stretching as if waking up for “good morning,” having them stand and wave with their arms above their heads for “good afternoon” to show the sun was high in the sky, having them stand and wave with their hands parallel to their shoulders to show the sun was lower, for “good evening,” and pretending to sleep for “good night”). The second- and third-year kids really got it, but once again, the first-years kept forgetting. I need to come up with activities that function around the idea that little kids have really short attention spans–this week was really a learning experience for me.

There are also these action-word sheets from that I got a lot of mileage out of during my first year (I would very highly recommend paying the $25/year to have access to their materials, by the way), and I went through those with them last week and have been taking the kids through those again today, since TPR activities are really successful with elementary school kids in general. With the third-years today, though, I skipped that in lieu of having them review their self-introductions–and the kids were so afraid of messing up that they’d written the katakana (phonetic-sounding alphabet) characters for the words on their desks or even their arms to reference, even though I was helping them through everything!

On the whole, it’s going well so far, at this school and otherwise. My junior high schedule has been a bit messed up due to katei houmon, and I went in yesterday right after my morning elementary school and found that our class had been moved up a period, which actually meant I was a few minutes late, so I dropped my bags and dashed to the classroom. I was tired and had a bad headache last night, just from getting used to this very different schedule, but I think I’ll have it down in a few weeks.

I now have less than 3 months until the end of my contract. It’s a scary prospect. The end is in sight, and I’m getting started on networking and job searching, and I’m trying to prepare myself emotionally for when I leave. I’m not looking forward to it–I have a lot to look forward to, with being back in my field and moving forward and being much closer to my family and friends again, but I have a lot I’ll be leaving behind, and very regretfully at that.

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