The red light turned green, commanding a massive crowd to scramble the street altogether. The picture below painted four armies of people who began rushing into the battle, but as they met, they became one.
The scene was animated with colorful lights emitting from large TVs on skyscrapers during a night in Tokyo City; Tokyo prides itself on having the busiest intersection in the world – Shibuya.
Shibuya crossing (Shutterstock/File)
I was the little soldier spying from the above, trying to dodge the drops of icy rain while dashing through the crowd. The atmosphere was rather tense; I thought I was the only person in the world, even though I was surrounded by the matrix of people. I could dance, laugh, cry, and scream, and nobody cared. I was in a place I might call a paradise – not for long.
One of my colleagues who also came for the EACAT homestay program in Japan interrupted my imagination. “Tomorrow, there will be a huge typhoon!” I thought it was a normal storm, until his next sentence became serious, “Our plan to visit the museum was canceled.” My blood boiled, and I was about to explode, but I couldn’t. I hated the fact, and I chose not to believe him. In Cambodia, I refused to check the weather forecast because they were usually inaccurate, so why should I believe a typhoon hitting Japan soon? Thus, I let the amusement of Tokyo City distract me from such news, but it couldn’t.
The news about the typhoon rampaged my Facebook newsfeed; as I scrolled, the image of an eye circled by a huge spinning cloud rendered; mostly they were shared by my Cambodian friends. They did not hesitate to share such news; they even prayed for Japan.
I was pondering if Japanese people knew we were praying for them. Was it necessary? Did they even care? No matter what the answers were, I felt gratitude when prayers wished for my safety. I was convinced that this storm became an alert, and I had to be cautious.
Satellite photo shows typhoon Hagibis approaching Japan [NASA Worldview, EOSDIS/AP]
The leader of the homestay program, who came from the same province as me, but studied in Japan for many years, finally announced the news about the typhoon.
His expression did not show any worries, as he had experienced not only once but countless earthquakes and typhoons, including the 2011 earthquake that triggered a huge tsunami and caused Japan many casualties.
He insisted we return to our homestay as soon as possible and purchase a full-day meal since we wouldn’t make any trip, but stay indoors for the next day. After he finished, I imagined myself as a soldier in a war who just got an order from my commander; I felt pride even when I had no idea how to fight the typhoon.
When the war began, the supply is the most important variable—especially food. So, as a soldier, I pushed myself through a grocery store, grabbed a cart, and began my hunting in the maze.
As I scanned columns and rows, I noticed that a few sections were empty. It occurred to me that an army came in the store before us and stole our best choices.
Empty rows at a grocery store in Yokohama
Finally, I bought a bottle of milk tea, one package of sushi, one package of frozen pasta, one tray of cooked vegetables, and a bowl of tofu gratin. I may make a wrong choice, but my instinct told me to have a backup, so I bought a couple of cup noodles.
A collection of my food
Who would have thought Yokohama, where we sheltered, was the path for the cyclone? I hoped our 40-year-old house still stands firm after enduring many storms and earthquakes. Though this time, she had to face the strongest one.
Even when it was not the climax, part of Japan was already under Hagibis’s domain – the rain poured down none stop. I once again witnessed another battle between nature and humanity.
The blue dot showed my location and red line predicted the path of typhoon Hagibis. (Weather Forecast Channel)
As I looked out the window, I knew that Japanese people were already prepared for worst-case scenarios; some were already evacuated from dangerous areas: rivers, shores, and mountains. They had stocked their food. Windows were all shut and locked. Trains and buses were out of service. Airliners suspended their flights. The government phone-called all citizens to be cautious. Underground tunnels opened its vessels and ready to flash rainwaters into the ocean.
Most importantly they stayed indoors.
The view of our neighborhood from my window when the edge of the storm arrived. October 11, 2019.
At 8:15 pm, an army of wind rushed into our defense, creating a whistling sound like a ghost was laughing. It was pitch dark, but the lights from our house disclosed the picture of trees struggled to hold its grounds.
I stupidly thought, what if I got killed by these winds? What if the roof was blown off?
My program leader’s eyes widened and surprisingly declared: “This wind was strong.” Even he got scared!
With this uncomfortable position, I embraced myself, preoccupied with teenagers’ conversations and Khmer music that ease everyone’s tensions.
I stared at the glass wall and thought to myself, “That wind outside was a beast,” and I would never dare to get close to that wall.
It would be worse if electricity lines were cut off. Fortunately, electricity still turned on. The internet continued operating, even if some small glitches occurred. We were very glad to be able to connect with our friends and family during these miserable hours. It would be a harder life without the internet in this century.
Two hours later, the peace came back, the wind calmed down with magical charms. We knew that our crisis was gone. I raised my hands high after realizing our victory of the battle. I laughed because I couldn’t believe the result. I excitedly video-called my friends and family to tell them about my adventure. It was a moment of joy, a time I would never forget.
The next morning, the sky was clear blue and there was no strand of clouds. I checked around and found no damage, but only felt disconsolate after knowing that other areas, not too far away from where I was, were heavily damaged. My phone rendered the picture of houses half-submerged underwater, fragments of buildings scattered on the ground, and cars flew and piled into a giant hill. We were the lucky ones that survived through the typhoon named Hagibis.
After the typhoon, the sky became clear blue, but it was still windy.
I applied to this homestay program with the curiosity to learn and observe Japan’s mindset, education, infrastructure, culture, beliefs, and policies.
Experiencing a typhoon was nowhere to be found on my itinerary list. But typhoons brought me to realize how hardworking and mindful Japanese people are. They hated these storms; it left flooded villages and torn houses, but they never gave up hope.
These stories through the typhoon inspired me to see Japan as a source of motivation and a place where resilient people live. Only two adjectives could describe my experience with the typhoon: unfortunate and special.
Written by: Vuthy Vey