I was on my way out to the local Family Mart convenience store for my morning newspaper this morning and I noticed a small red fire department vehicle parked in front of the public high school across the street. I wondered, what’s going on? I didn’t hear sounds of excitement or alarm, so I figured there was no emergency. Maybe a building inspection. Maybe a fire department public relations appearance. During the morning all I heard were the usual sounds of students playing sports on the field between the school building and the gymnasium/auditorium. Then around noon hour I went out again only this time I noticed a white vehicle in the parking lot in front of the gym building. Many students in sports wear were lined up in front of it and I recognized immediately what it was. It was one of the fire department’s earthquake simulators mounted on the back of a small truck, and the students were using it by turns to practice their earthquake response. It’s almost like an amusement park ride. (I don’t like amusement park rides.) I have only tried it one time myself, several years ago when I was working at the Tokyo YMCA International School. This time I could not go into the school grounds to watch because the gates were closed. But I know the setup and routine. The inside of the vehicle is made up like a room in a home: table, chairs, ceiling light, gas heater, refrigerator. A handful of students go in and take a seat. When the shaking starts (there is a hydraulic device beneath the floorboards) they have to turn off the gas, turn off the light and get under the table for protection before the shaking prevents them from standing. Little children think its fun, but I didn’t think it was fun when I did it. There is a certain element of shameful embarrassment about it because everyone waiting their turn watches while you grope around, fall, and look foolish. (One side of the simulator is open for all to see.)
The students’ final exams are finished and they are only a week away from their two- or three-week spring holiday. The new school year starts in early April.