The Japanese archipelago is prone to earthquakes, due to its position at the limit of four great tectonic plates: The Pacific Plate, the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate and the Filipino Plate.
One of the most memorable earthquake in Japan happened in the afternoon of 2011, March 11, and was of 9,1 magnitude. Numerous and strong aftershocks (up to magnitude 7) have been reported over a long period in the area, and other major earthquakes happened since in Japan, with many people killed or injured, and important damages to infrastructures:
Experiencing an earthquake is quite frequent when living in Japan on a long-term basis, and even as a tourist.
Japanese people are trained as soon as elementary school to face those natural disasters, but foreign visitors are not. It is thus advisable to check what are the consequences of an earthquake (power and water shortages, gas leaks, etc.) before going to Japan and be introduced some useful tips and information to prepare for an earthquake and know how to react during one.
Preparations before an earthquake
Have an earthquake survival kit ready, stored in a safe and easy to reach place. What you should stock inside:
- Food that can be stored for a long time and doesn’t need cooking + water supply for at least 3 days (4 liters per person and per day);
- A first-aid kit + basic medicines (fever reduction or pain relievers, etc.);
- A hygiene kit (toothbrush, soap, hydro-alcoholic gel, etc.);
- Proof of identity (passport, etc.);
- A list of emergency numbers: Police (110), Ambulance (119), your country’s Embassy in Japan number (check their number beforehand);
- Clothing adapted to the season + one sleeping bag per person;
- Matches or lighter + flashlight with batteries;
- Protection gloves and masks + batteries supply;
- A map of your living area or city with the route to the nearest safety area;
- A portable radio, with batteries, and the English broadcasting frequencies: Eagle (810AM), InterFM (76.1FM), Japan FM (81.3FM).
Know your way around your house and adapt it to prevent earthquake-related risks:
- Do not store heavy objects on top of shelves or furniture;
- Learn to stop gas, water and electricity without help (in Japan, most of gas appliances are designed to shut down automatically with magnitude 5 and above earthquakes);
- Get fire extinguishers and learn how to use them;
- Check and memorize the emergency exits in your building;
- Take the time to visit the Disaster prevention center (bosaikan) in your area: you will learn all the necessary instructions to face an earthquake or a fire, and even try an earthquake simulator;
- Memorize the walking route to your house from your office or school;
- Get accustomed to the emergency messages used by NTT and the other telephone companies, such as Softbank, Docomo, AU KDDI...
Advices and good practices during and after an earthquake
If you are indoors (building / home):
- Keep calm;
- Take shelter under a table, a desk (but avoid door frames as they may collapse);
- Protect your head;
- Stay away from objects that may fall or break;
- Do not run;
- Do not rush outside;
- If you are in a room, open the door;
- Shut down gas and electricity;
- If possible, extinguish small fires;
- Never use the elevator;
If you are in an elevator:
- In Japan, some elevators are equipped with vibration sensors and programmed to stop and open their doors automatically at the nearest floor: just leave the elevator and take cover until the shakings end.
- Otherwise, push all the floor buttons and leave the elevator as soon as it stops, and its doors open. The emergency button or the interphone are to be used in the worst case: if the elevator is stuck or in a dangerous condition. Do not try to force your way out of the elevator and just wait for help.
If you are outdoors:
- Keep calm;
- Do not run;
- Stay away from objects that may fall, from glass and utility poles;
- Stay away from vending machines and concrete walls;
- Protect your head, with a bag for example;
- Take shelter in modern, sturdy looking buildings;
- Avoid narrow streets, walk in the middle of the road;
- In case of fire, check the wind direction to avoid being caught in the fire;
- If you are in a store, or a cinema, etc. follow the staff’s instructions;
- If you are near the sea, a dam or a river, do not wait for a tsunami alert, leave immediately and reach the highest safety point. Then wait until the tsunami alert is officially cleared. It can take several hours.
If you are in a car or in a train:
- Keep calm;
- Stop your vehicle on the left side of the road to allow passage for emergency vehicles in the middle;
- Listen to the radio for instructions given to the population;
- If you must abandon your vehicle, do not lock it and leave the ignition key on the dashboard;
- In case of a big earthquake in Tokyo, most of the main roads will be forbidden to personal vehicles anyway;
- If you are in a train, hold firmly on the straps, or any kind of handle and follow the staff’s instructions.
Some other useful advices:
- Contact your country’s Embassy in Japan as soon as possible (check their phone number beforehand);
- Contact at least one person among your relatives or friends to let them know you are safe;
- If the phone network is saturated, NTT will help by allowing the use of all the phone booths for free (as they did on 03.11);
- You can also use Twitter to inform about your condition and keep up to date with the situation;
- The earthquake may cause vertigo and dehydration. Drink a lot of water and memorize the recipe for oral rehydration therapy (one liter of water, 4,5 tablespoon of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt);
- Memorize some useful emergency situation vocabulary. For example: "tasukete!" ("Help!" / 助けて), "itai" ("I am in pain" / 痛い), "daijobu" ("I am all right" / 大丈夫), " abunai!" ("Beware!", "Danger!" / 危ない), "kaji da!" ("Fire!" / 火事だ), etc.
Most of Japanese people, however, rarely panic in such a situation. On June 18, 2018, when the Osaka earthquake (magnitude 6,1) stroke in the morning, 62% of commuters just went to their workplace as usual.