Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Typhoon and an Earthquake

Typhoon Man-yi (also known as "Taifun #4," which is less exciting I suppose) swept across Japan, killing three people. The aftermath of a long rainy Saturday here in Hamamatsu consisted mostly of leafy mess on the sidewalks and in the gutters along the curbs.

All up and down White Street near my apartment, the trees shed small branches full of bright green leaves. They were festive enough that it looked more like the result of a wild party night than a storm.

This morning, a strong quake hit in Miyagi prefecture, injuring at least 40 people. Japan is the place to come when you want to feel the earth is alive. And it is alive, a living planet of constant change. I think people who live in places without earthquakes or volcanos, where rainstorms are relatively mild, feel a sense of permanence about all things.

Which is hardly true. A volcano or a flood can bring rapid change in environment, but over the course of time continents move, mountain ranges rise and wear away, rivers dig canyons and coral reefs form and die. What the earth looks like now was not always so and millions of years from now, your descendents will live on a planet that's radically different from the one you see everyday. One day the sun will expand into a red giant and consume the earth entirely.

Permanence and forever are fallacies. Nothing stays, everything goes.

The amazing thing (and maybe frightening as well) is that an earthquake can be so strong that even though it happened hundreds and hundreds of miles away, it had an almost immediate effect on people in Hamamatsu. I was sitting at my computer when the floor began to move, almost as if it were swelling and about to burst. It continued for about 10 or 15 very long seconds.

Time expands in moments like that.

But I'm safe, and so is everyone else here in Hamamatsu. As Lady Mariko says in Shogun, "It is over until it begins again."

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