Safety Tips for Earthquakes in Japan

Today, January 17, is the day the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occurred in 1995. I’m writing this article today to share some safety tips for living in Japan, a country with many earthquakes.
The other day I visited Life Safety Learning Center in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.
Having been born and raised in Japan, where earthquakes occur frequently, I thought I knew some safety tips from earthquake drills, but at this Learning Center, I learned once again how scary earthquakes are and what to do in case of an earthquake through hands-on experience. Today, I would like to share some of the safety tips I have learned there.

Life Safety Learning Center (In Japanese, 防災館 [bōsai-kan])

*You can learn about not only earthquakes but also fires. When I visited, the tour was offered mainly in Japanese, but there were English, Chinese, and Korean subtitles.

Japan, a country of earthquakes

How many earthquakes do you think to occur in Japan in a year?

Including small earthquakes (those that we don’t even notice), there are about 2,000 earthquakes per year. This is because Japan is located on the boundary of four major tectonic plates, and when the tectonic plates slide and move, earthquakes often occur in and around Japan.

In Japan, there are regular earthquake evacuation drills from kindergarten and elementary school, where students learn what to do in case of an earthquake.

In Japan, a unit called “seismic intensity” expresses the scale of shaking that people experience. When an earthquake occurs, the news reports the intensity as well as the magnitude. There are 10 levels of intensity: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Lower, 5 Upper, 6 Lower, 6 Upper, and 7. When the seismic intensity is 4 or higher, you may feel scared because things may fall or fall down. (Personally, I feel pretty scared when the level is 5 or above. 4 is also scary because you can clearly feel the quake, but living in Tokyo, it happens once in a while, so I just act as usual.)

The JMA Seismic Intensity Scale

Things you should prepare before an earthquake occurs

Check if there are any unsafe areas in your home

Tall furniture and cupboards in high positions may fall over during an earthquake, or their contents may fall and injure you. To prevent furniture from falling over when shaken, secure it from the ceiling with a tension rod for earthquakes. Also, for cupboards with glass doors, it is a good idea to put up shatterproof sheets to prevent the glass from shattering when it breaks.

Don’t Let Furniture Attack You in a Quake! – Tokyo Fire Department

Build your emergency kit with essential items

Prepare at least three days’ worth of food, water, clothes, and underwear, and put them all in a backpack or something you can easily carry when you evacuate. If you have a baby, you should also prepare powdered formula and diapers. (Even if you normally breastfeed your baby, the stress of an earthquake may make it difficult for some people to produce milk. Formula or liquid milk may be helpful.) If you are a woman, you will also need sanitary products. A mobile battery is also useful for keeping track of your current situation with your smartphone and for contacting people to confirm their safety.

It is also a good idea to prepare comfortable walking shoes such as sneakers. (Be sure to wear shoes or thick slippers, as there may be broken glass or other materials splattered all over the place, even indoors.)

It is also very important to check the location and how to use the fire extinguishers in your house (in apartments, they may be located in the hallways).

Learn about earthquakes with your family

It is very important to check how you will protect yourself during an earthquake, where you will evacuate to, what you will prepare, and who will evacuate with what. Furthermore, if your family is in different places such as during the daytime on weekdays, you should discuss and decide how you will meet and keep in touch with each other. (After a major earthquake, it may be difficult or impossible to connect to the phone or Internet.)

Also, if you have children of elementary school age, it is a good idea to check the route to school, and make sure that there are no objects or dangerous places that could fall down and get underneath in case of an earthquake. 

It is also a good idea to study together as a family at a place like Life Safety Learning Center.

Things you should do in case of an earthquake

During an earthquake: First, protect yourself.

When an earthquake occurs, or when you hear an earthquake alert on your TV or smartphone, get under a table or somewhere where you can hide your head and body and wait for the shaking to stop.

Right after the quake stops: Don’t panic and stay calm

  • Turn off the equipment with a fire
    (Put out cooking equipment, heaters, and anything else that could cause a fire as soon as the shaking calms down. If there is a fire, put it out quickly and calmly.)
  • Don’t panic and rush out of the house.
    (Glass or house walls may fall out from above. If you need to evacuate, evacuate after you make sure it is safe.)
  • Open the door.
    (If the door frame is badly damaged by an earthquake, the door may not open. Secure an escape route.)
  • Stay away from walls and gates made of stone or concrete blocks
    (If an earthquake strikes while you are outside, evacuate as far away as possible from walls made of stones or concrete blocks to avoid falling and being trapped underneath.)

After the earthquake

  • If there is a risk of fire or tsunami, or if there is a risk of buildings collapsing, evacuate to a safe place. Especially in coastal areas where tsunami warnings are issued, evacuate as quickly as possible to higher places. If possible, turn off the electrical breaker and shut off the main gas valve before evacuating.
  • First, secure the safety of your own family. After you have ensured your family’s safety, check your neighbors’ safety.
  • Make sure you get the right information. Unfortunately, malicious rumors can circulate in the aftermath of a disaster, whether in Japanese or English. Check the source of information and try to confirm official information (Japanese government, Japan Meteorological Agency, Fire Department, local government) as much as possible. It is also important not to retweet or spread information on social networking sites where the source of information is not clear.

For those of you who come from countries with few earthquakes, earthquakes in Japan can be frightening and make you feel anxious. In Japan, there is a proverb that goes something like this:

「備えあれば憂いなし(そなえあればうれいなし / sonae areba urei nashi)」
“If you prepare ahead, you don’t have to worry when an emergency occurs”.

Of course, in the event of a major disaster, you will worry no matter what, but if you know about earthquakes correctly and prepare properly, you are more likely to be able to take action to protect yourself in the event of an emergency.

After reading this article, please check your house, inside and outside, evacuation place and routes, and emergency supplies.

Related links:

Tokyo Fire Department

Life Safety Learning Center

How to make an emergency call in Japan – “119” Fire Department / Ambulance / Rescue –