A Whirlwind Trip to Kawayu

DSC04308I’m sitting here at my kotatsu typing away instead of being at school. The reason, Typhoon No. 21. Just when you thought typhoon season is over, here comes a humongous one to take the stuffing out of you. And of course, bearing in mind that this is Japan – typhoons love this long strip of archipelago for some reason. So here I am, typing away as the winds howl like the wolves outside, and the rains pelt my windows with a vengeance that sometimes have me wondering if I should start taping them. Or maybe it’s too late for that anyway…

DSC04244Living in Japan has taught me to be grateful for the weather, and to constantly check it every day. That has become one of the main reasons I tune in to the news broadcasts every night. While many Japanese watch the news for developments ahead of the upcoming Lower House General Elections (okay, perhaps not), which concluded last night with a sweeping victory for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling LDP party, I was more concerned about the rampaging advances of Typhoon No.21.

DSC04259DSC04264In September, another typhoon (Typhoon Talim) had forced me to cut short my long weekend trip to the Kawayu Onsen area. To sum up that trip, I never had a chance to explore the beautiful Kawayu area in depth except for a sightseeing bus tour – which was exactly that, you stayed on the bus mostly save for 15-minute stops at Lake Mashu and the sulfurous Io Valley). I never took a dip in any of the popular onsens here either (save for a 10-min bath).

Well, I guess I had other things to give thanks for. I made a couple of new friends (both from Taiwan), who turned out to be great travel companions even for that half a day. I also managed to get a refund on a night’s stay from the owner of the pension where I was staying. We had  a lengthy ding-dong over email explaining my reasons for cutting my stay short, and I’m thankful that he had been kind and understanding. And last but not least, I’m grateful to salvage a few good shots from my trip, given the less than pleasant weather from the approaching storm.   LS

P.S.: My apartment windows are still rattling from Super Typhoon Lan right now. What a name…if only you know what the name means in the Chinese vernacular…

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Damn You, Mr Kim!!!

1503957699616_cropSeptember is most commonly associated with typhoons in Hokkaido. Memories of Typhoon Lionrock (otherwise known as Typhoon No. 10 in Japan) that wreaked havoc in Southern Furano last September is still fresh in the minds of many Japanese in Hokkaido. However, this year, instead of typhoons, we have a new (or old) threat! That of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and his beloved missiles!!

We had not one, but two incidents of the J-alarm being triggered as a result of missile tests from North Korea. On both occasions, my mobile phone screamed like crazy and jolted me out of my snooze. The first time it happened, on 28 August, my first thoughts were that a massive earthquake must have occurred in Japan, but after checking my earthquake app, I quickly dismissed that notion and (feeling inexplicably relieved) went back to sleep, only to be awakened by a recurrent “scream” from my device.

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Confused and a little dazed, I flicked on the TV and to my horror, the words “Missile Alert!” in black and red appeared on the screen – like the subtitles of a horror movie. Now, I’m really scared s***-less because I’ve never experienced anything like this before!!! What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? Should I still report for work at school today?

These thoughts raced through my mind as I glued my eyes to the repeated broadcasts of the missile tests on TV, hoping to glean as much information as I could.

I texted my supervisor and Singaporean friends (also ALT teachers like me) in other prefectures, and also posted “I’m safe” messages on Facebook. If the missile had indeed landed on Hokkaido (or anywhere else in Japan), it clearly had not struck my city. Because I was still alive!

Thank God for being alive, I thought!! I went through the rest of the workday at school a little shell-shocked if I’m being completely honest. The events of that morning weighed heavily on my mind. At school, however, my colleagues seemed pretty nonchalant to the whole “missile incident”. Are they immune to it? Or are they hiding it too well?

Later that day, I learnt from the news that the missile had flown over Hokkaido and dropped into the sea about 1,180 kilometres off Cape Erimo in Eastern Hokkaido. No cause for concern you might say. To put things in perspective, that is roughly the same distance between New York and Atlanta, or between London (England) and Venice (Italy).

For the rest of that day, I couldn’t help but think of this: that in the event that a missile did strike my city, or for that matter, anywhere else in Japan, there’s no escape!!! Forget about evacuation, forget about rushing to the nearest building, or an underground shelter. The chances of survival are almost zero!!

Less than two weeks later, my phone screamed its head off and woke me up again. A second missile test from North Korea!!

“Damn you fat-ass Kim!!” I yelled, got up to brush my teeth and get ready for school.  LS