IU senior Megan Rippey survived Japan's earthquake
Feb. 20, 2012
The morning dawned perfectly, eerily clear. Every other day my dad and I had spent in Tokyo that week had been cold and cloudy, but that day the sky stretched on, a vivid, crystalline blue.
I didn’t know that day would change everything.
“You know earthquakes are common here, Megan,” my dad had told me on the plane. He had been traveling to Japan for work for as long as I can remember. This time, I got to tag along.
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“I just don’t want you to panic,” he said. “It’s kind of a weird feeling, but it’s only about 10 seconds.”
I’d listened to him then, but I didn’t know how much I would need his advice. Later that day, I’d be caught in the shock of a nation fighting for survival.
That morning, my dad left for work. We were going to meet for dinner later, and I was left to explore on my own. After I showered, I went to look for souvenirs for my friends at home.
In the Ginza shopping district, I discovered a golf shop. Inside, I wandered over to a wall of golf balls. They were stacked three in a box, stretching over my head. As I was looking, they started to shake. One by one in their tiny cases, they rattled, the plastic pock marks clinking against each other.
Had I bumped into it? I looked around the store. Across the room, a mannequin fell. The women who were working realized I was nervous. My red hair and
freckles gave me away as a visitor, and they reassured me it was OK.
It was just an earthquake, like normal. They were all used to it, like my dad said. But as I looked longer, I saw their faces start to falter. One of the women opened her mouth and screamed.
Someone tugged me from behind, pulling me into a corner. They gave me a helmet, and I put it on. I wanted to stand, but everything was shaking with me. The balls fell from their shelf, and outside the store front, I could see cars bouncing on the streets of Tokyo.
When the shaking stopped, we all sensed it was something big. Slowly, we peeled ourselves off the floor and started filtering into the streets. We looked to see what damage had been done, to see if it was real.
I joined a stream of people headed toward my hotel, the safest place in the city. Blank TVs were blaring instructions and updates in Japanese, but I couldn’t understand anything. All I could do was watch the faces of the people around me. People would come up to me and tell me, in English, it would be all right.
The aftershocks kept rolling in, and we would all duck into the nearest buildings as they hit. Eventually, I made it to the hotel. We had to stay in the lobby, but I was allowed to get some essentials from my room.
In the silence of my room, I could finally hear my breathing. I was hyperventilating.
I collected my things quickly and went back to the stairwell. Where was my dad? How would I get home? I couldn’t even speak the language.
From three stories up, I heard people speaking English. I decided then that no matter who they were, I was sticking with them. They were my ticket home.
I descended flight after flight, coming closer to the voices.
When I turned the last corner, I saw my dad and fell down the rest of that flight into his arms. As a 21-year-old woman, I didn’t want to need my dad. But I did. I couldn’t control it anymore, and the tears ran down my face. Seeing him — knowing he’d take care of us — was the first relief I had all day.
Getting home was a challenge. We booked eight flights right away, on anything going to America. We walked for miles and finally caught a crammed train to the airport.
When we cleared security, we got on one of the last flights out via Singapore Airline.
Flying over the towns and villages we’d visited just days before, I couldn’t help but think of the people we’d met.
We’d eaten in their restaurants, shopped at their stores. They’d taken us in. Now, there was no way to know what happened to them, if they were even still alive.
When we landed in Los Angeles for our layover, I saw the damage on TV for the first time. It was everywhere, and I couldn’t look away.
No one knew we had been there. Had I even been there? It felt like something from a book.
For reasons none of us can understand, we were there that day.
But I won’t remember that day because of the earthquake. It was the spirit of the nation and its intrepid humanity that will live on in me, clear and bright as that morning in March.