September 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.
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