I was going to go to Hokkaido last weekend.
This would be a pedestrian statement if it weren’t for the fact that Hokkaido suffered a 6.7 magnitude earthquake the preceding Wednesday, leaving at least 30 dead. Needless to say, I cancelled my trip.
I have a number of neuroses regarding natural disasters. I grew up in south-east England, one of the safest areas in the world when it comes to natural threats. Earthquakes, hurricanes, extreme temperature, typhoons, dangerous animals, we got nada. As I’ve always said, you need to be exceptionally unlucky or pretty stupid for nature to kill you in the UK.
Whether it’s due to growing up in such a boringly safe habitat or my pathological need to be in control, being upset about earthquakes is something I know all about. In fact, it’s my go-to thing to be anxious about, like this week when I was sleep deprived and shitting a brick about a client meeting and so I also became convinced that the big one was going to strike when I was in the elevator. It made that eight floor ride to our office a long one.
An emotion I’m not used to, however, is annoyance. Because as well as being tragic and scary, this earthquake happened to be bloody inconvenient for me personally. My friends from Essex were coming to visit me and were flying from London to Tokyo as the quake hit and we had planned the trip to Hokkaido as a fun thing to do together. I had got through that week by fantasizing about walking across hills and tasting whiskey with friends I hadn’t seen properly in years. We had booked our flights and our hostel and we had no guarantee that we would get our money back. I was angrily looking at the news, holding council with my boyfriend and moaning about ‘that bloody earthquake’ when I suddenly was hit by a wave of guilt. How could I think this way? People had died in this disaster and I was making it all about me, like it was a harmless annoyance like that salary man who got his head stuck under a seat, causing the Yamanote line to go down for a whole hour (and me to miss my yoga class) a few weeks ago.
The things is though, it was inconvenient. I don’t have much time or money so something that disrupts my plans can be very frustrating. The cold, hard truth is that terrible things happen every day and we don’t have the emotional energy to feel bad about all of them. I think some of my frustration was tinged with fear, fear knowing that if it had been two days later we would have been caught in it. I was reassuring my visiting friends that, “It’s OK, it’s far from Tokyo, nothing will happen to you when you’re here,” as if I was reassuring myself.
I was reminded of the time my Dad was stuck in terrible traffic jam on the motorway and didn’t get home until the early hours. He said he spent a lot of time sitting behind the wheel, berating himself that if he had been 10 minutes earlier he would have missed the whole thing and got home in time for tea. Of course it occurred to him that if he had been 5 minutes earlier he would probably be dead.
In the end, we got some, though not all, of our money back. We booked a last minute trip to Kawaguchiko instead, the area around the biggest of Mt Fuji’s five lakes, offering a beautiful view of Japan’s iconic mountain. We got a last minute deal on lovely hostel and ended up in the cottage (for six people, we were four) so we could be as loud as we wanted, drinking and playing bananagrams in our yukata. We cycled around the lake, went down into the ice caves and went to an amazing onsen . We had a wonderful time.
Life goes on, as it does every day after natural disasters. The hard truth is that some tragedies hit closer to home than others.