Notes from a typhoon

(Photo credit: Shuji Kajiyama, Associated Press)

Monna: Okay, D. I’m a little scared.
DP: It’s not going to get any worse than this.
Monna: Don’t say that. How do you know the typhoon isn’t going to get any worse than this?
DP: (Knocks on wood.) Well, there are people walking on the street with umbrellas.
Monna: Really?
DP: Okay… they are running.

Before Wednesday, I’d never really given typhoons much thought. If you’d asked me about Colombian kidnappings and drug cartels… or fascist bookstores in Barcelona, I would have had something interesting to share but typhoons were not yet part of my personal health and safety lexicon.

On Tuesday morning, we received an email from our school head alerting us to the fact that Typhoon 15 (aka Roke) was headed directly towards Tokyo/Yokohama. (The Japanese take their typhoons very seriously and I now understand why.) By the end of the day, we received a second message reminding us to get our emergency phone chains in order as there was a possibility that school would be cancelled but, as I packed up my laptop, I never dreamed that anything would come of it. I assumed were simply being cautious. As we walked home, a light rain began to fall and we decided to pick up some groceries… just in case.

I awoke on Thursday morning to the sound of DP calling several students in his class. I heard him say, “School has been cancelled.” School is cancelled? Woo hoo… but then… not so much. Typhoon Roke was intent on keeping her date with Yokohama. It was shortly after 6:00 a.m. and, although Yokohama is normally sunny and bright by that time, the city was dark as night. I went back to sleep.

It rained off and on all morning. We consulted our typhoon map and calculated that the storm would hit between 9:00 a.m. and noon. While DP posted work for his students on his school blog, I worked on getting my work inbox down to one manageable page. DP made the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches that were almost as good as my mother’s.

By mid-afternoon the skies had changed from miserable to menacing. Powerful gusts of wind rattled the windows and the screen doors slid back and forth in their tracks. Our building, constructed in 2005, was designed to withstand earthquakes and this means that our building moves; if you have ever seen bamboo moving in the wind, you’ll have a sense of the movement at the top of our building. On the 22nd floor, our lights swung back and forth in exactly the same way they do when we are having an earthquake. A slight case of seasickness ensued which, frankly, I was not expecting during a typhoon.

Later that evening, after the worst of the storm had passed, a friend here in Yokohama emailed about an earthquake she had just felt. I was still swaying from the typhoon and hadn’t noticed the earthquake at all.

We got off lucky here. We are smart enough to feel grateful. Anyone who thinks that humans can control the natural world has clearly never lived in Japan.


  1. Monna,
    I read your blog when you were in BK, I also used to live there and still love it. I now also live in Tokyo, I work at ASIJ, the American School in Japan. I would be happy to show you some great places around Tokyo if you are both interested. I love going to shrine sales, not exactly Chatuchak, but fun none the less. I know some other good places and secrets too.
    Drop me a line if you are interested.

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