Photo: Lee waranyu/Shutterstock

Notes From Inside a Typhoon: Hayama, Japan

by Morgan deBoer Sep 27, 2013

What I like about daytime storms is I can periodically look out the window and make sure the world is still in one piece. What I like about nighttime storms is I just sleep and don’t worry.

At 5 in the morning the wind wakes me. I get out of bed and slide the metal storm shutters over the glass windows and pretend to sleep until 6:30 when Brant wakes up to go to work. The metal storm shutters change the sound of the wind to a kettle whistling and whining.

Brant shaves and we open the bathroom window and the wind blows the water from the faucet everywhere. I use binoculars to look at the waves up and down the beach. There are surfable waves at a spot that usually is completely flat. Nowhere is completely flat.

At 7:15 Brant leaves and at 7:30 the plastic bug trap hanging on the front door starts to swing and scratch the metal and for some reason I am suddenly afraid to be in the house alone. Every room is closed up and dark because all the windows are blocked. I open the door and take down the trap. I look down the alley and see my neighbors, who are always drinking coffee at their kitchen table, drinking coffee at their kitchen table. I take a shower. It starts to rain suddenly and the sound of the rain is louder than the water from the faucet.

I can’t decide if I should work upstairs or downstairs. Upstairs the roof could blow off. Downstairs flood water could come inside. Upstairs is where my emergency kit is. Downstairs is where we keep the snacks. I’m a hypochondriac of emergencies. What if a tree falls on the house? What if there is a Big Voice announcement and I can’t understand it because it’s in Japanese. What if Brant has car trouble on his way to work and he’s stranded?

My heart rate picks up. I am a little bit afraid for the first time. I hadn’t thought about a storm surge.

I open the tiny window in the stairway that doesn’t have metal shutters and stick my head outside. I notice my next-door neighbor has weighed down his plastic compost bin with big sea shells. I will be fine.

I settle upstairs because there’s a more comfortable chair. I feel like I’m in a cave. The windows are closed but the curtains move around and sliding doors and closet doors in every room rattle. I think about the Little House on the Prairie story when the grasshoppers come and the house is closed up.

At 8:45 there’s the first burst of wind that hits the house so heavy and fast it feels exactly like an earthquake, and I squat down on the ground until it passes. I check the Japan Meteorological Agency website and see that our area has emergency warnings for: heavy rain (ground loosening, inundation), flood, storm, high waves, and advisories for storm surge and thunderstorm. My heart rate picks up. I’m a little bit afraid for the first time. I hadn’t thought about a storm surge. I look out the tiny window in the staircase and see my neighbor in an all-orange rain suit on the beach looking at the waves. This was not predicted to be a dangerous storm, but reading that list makes me envision the mountain behind our house crumbling into the street and covering the houses and the cemetery. A storm surge is somehow worse. The waves are thick and frothy.

At 9:45 I realize I’ve been sitting down and working for 45 minutes and haven’t paid much attention to the storm. I wonder if the winds have slowed down or if I’m just used to the howling by now. I regret texting my husband that I’m scared. I think about painting my nails. The winds are silent, and then the laptop almost slips off my lap when the house shakes. I get up and look out the window. It seems like it’s been low tide this whole time but the waves are getting bigger and bigger. The wind is a siren. The guitar in its case rocks back and forth. I’m either paying attention again or it’s gotten worse. I put my head out the little window to take pictures of the water and the house rocks under me, my stomach leaning on the windowsill.

Something big smacks into the other side of the house. It sounds like a bat hitting a ball. I hear things differently in different rooms. Upstairs I hear the wind. On the stairs I hear the waves. In the bedroom I hear the rain. Downstairs I hear the house shifting, cracking its knuckles, and the things outside moving and scratching the walls like they’re trying to get in.

At 11:00 I go downstairs. On the way I peek outside and the waves are lapping the very edge of the beach. They must be over the road. I remember our next-door neighbor put in garage doors this year because he didn’t want water from typhoons to get into his house. Downstairs the wind sounds like a deep voice and I really want Brant to come home. I wonder how all the stray cats are doing.

At noon the winds are almost constant and stay that way for half an hour. I watch the waves crash against the breakwater and they’re strong and explode 10 and 15 feet in the air and dramatically smack the rocks when they come down and I’m grateful for those rock walls because the waves would easily be up to our house without them. At 12:30 it starts to rain again and the sky darkens but the winds slow.

Brant calls at 12:45 and says he’s on his way. I put my head out the window again and a shirtless man is on the road surveying the waves. He has to jump backwards when a fast-moving sheet of water slides up to where he’s standing. At 1:05 the winds are much lower and I start to close the metal shutters upstairs and I see Brant standing where the man was. I yell, “Are you crazy!” to him and he waves me outside.

We watch the water together for a while and find the high-water mark, which is much higher than I thought, halfway up the alley, past the neighbor’s new garage door.

Brant and I go back inside and he looks at his surf breaks with his binoculars. He considers taking a board out. The winds are so low we have the windows open and papers ruffle inside but nothing falls down. I felt in a hurry all day somehow and now it’s quiet and safe and I’m tired.

The worst of it is over and my mouth tastes like salt.

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