View from Tokyo Tower. Roads look like an X!

One topic has been in top of the news lines constantly these days. That topic is North Korea.

Many news about North Korea in Yahoo's top news

Japan has been in a panic for a few days because of the missile threat. 25th of April was called an X day by Japanese news and this day was considered a very potential day for missile launch. While this X day has passed, news sites are still writing about missile threat and suggesting new potentially dangerous days. Looking at the Yahoo’s top news this morning, 3 of the 8 articles shown at the top were about North Korea’s missile. And it’s not only news topics: early on the Saturday morning, numerous metro lines were temporarily stopped because North Korea launched a missile. This missile launch apparently failed and the metro started moving again in around 10 minutes but this 10 minutes stop had an effect to around 10 300 people boarding the train. Japanese train companies always do all they can to avoid causing trouble to passengers so it is a big decision to stop the trains for 10 minutes.

I used the word panic above but you should remember that the word “panic” here means a very Japanese panic: everyone lives their normal lives, no one seriously talks about the threat in public and everyone just goes out and has fun with their friends as usual. How does this translate as panic? Well, for one thing, many sites telling about how to evacuate were accessed in extreme numbers on 24th and 25th, and some sites were even down temporarily because of the number of accesses. News sites even wrote about what’s the potentially most dangerous day (25th) time (apparently 9-12am) and how much water and food you should prepare. None of my friends or anyone I met said they have prepared for the worst but many in the internet confessed they bought gas masks for the whole family.

Even though the missile being fired to Japan might sound like a very unrealistic and unlikely thing to happen when reading the news of the English world, it honestly does not feel that unrealistic here. Listening to news actually makes me scared sometimes. You could say it would be a very illogical and pointless move from North Korea to launch a missile to Japan – but since when has Kim Jong Un been acting logical anyway? No matter how small the chances of the missile being dropped to Japan were, it’s still possible and living here, it feels like the chances really aren’t that small.

Even if nothing were to happen, it’s calming to know what one should do if something were to happen.

So, what should you know?

First of all, in case the missile was launched, a Japan-wide warning system called J-ALERT will tell everyone about it by a loud siren. You should, at least in theory, be able to hear it no matter where you are. Most people will also get alerts in their phones. When you hear the alert sound, you should immediately evacuate. Depending on the source, you either have 6-8 minutes or 8-10 minutes until the missile will hit the ground. It might be safe to say you should get yourself to a safe place in 5 minutes but I don’t think anyone really has time to think about time when evacuating.

Where to evacuate?

The answer is simple: underground. The most recommended places are underground shelters but these are actually not very common in Japan. I checked some Universities, public buildings and the mansion where I live and none of them had a shelter where you could go when something happens. If you are like me and don’t have an actual shelter to evacuate to, the next best places to evacuate are the underground rooms of sturdy buildings and, a bit surprisingly, underground stations. Subway stations are actually very recommended as you can (at least in theory) escape after the explosion by boarding the subway.

If you have no way to get under the ground, head inside a sturdy building and stay away from the windows.

What should you carry with you?

  • Water and sports drinks
  • Canned food and emergency food
  • Nuts, chocolate, candies or other other snacks high in calories
  • A phone
  • A waller and a passport or other form of identification
  • A small towel or a handerchief
  • Ear plugs

If you want to play it extremely safe, you might also want to buy a gas mask.

Pocari Sweat Sports Drink
I don’t carry these around but I always have a great amount of sports drinks like Pocari Sweat at home for emergency situations. These won’t really be of use if the missile hits Tokyo though, unless I happen to be at home that time.

Reading the list, you might wonder whether it’s really necessary to carry all this with you just in case something might happen. Well, that’s something I can’t really answer. It might be worth it, it might not be. It’s possible that you never need any of these things and you just end up getting your back hurt and stiff shoulders with the weight of your backpack.

In case you want to know, I do carry some of these things around. However, I’m not doing it only because of the missile threat, I’m doing it mainly because I never know where I will be when a big earthquake hits.

What you should do when you hear the alert?

First, you should try to get under the ground as fast as possible. If you think you can’t get under the ground fast enough, head inside a sturdy building. If you have time, close the possible windows and air conditioners, making the room as airtight as possible. Then get down the ground on your belly but raise your stomach so that it doesn’t directly touch the ground. Having a pillow would be nice but as it’s very unrealistic that you have time to take one with you when you evacuate, you should either put a bag or something else under your stomach – or just keep it up with your muscles. I don’t want to go into details in this point but you apparently have bigger chances to survive if your stomach doesn’t directly touch the ground.

Next thing you should do is cover your ears (this is where ear plugs come in handy) and then cover your nose and mouth with a towel. Then just wait until the explosion is over.

Ungerground restaurant in Japanese countryside

How long do you have to stay evacuated?

According to different sources, you should stay evacuated for at least 2 weeks. The dangerous gas potentially included in the missile will, in theory, evaporate to a safe level in around 2 weeks. However, as this is only a theory, the period might be longer and it’s actually recommended to prepare for 1 month of evacuation life.

In a nutshell:

  1. Always carry at least water with you.
  2. Rush underground when you hear the alert.
  3. Don’t panic.

For other tips, you can follow as many of them as you feel necessary. All the directions introduced in this post are based on the information provided by Japanese news sites and the directions published by Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat National Security Affairs and Crisis Management.

No one can say if they will work in a real situation and no one can tell you whether you ever need them. However, if you are in Japan or other countries with threats like this, it won’t hurt to remember what you should do just in case something were to happen.

Ken also wrote about the same subject in the Japanese Kettinotes a few days ago. Those who know Japanese or are studying Japanese should take a look at the article here (北朝鮮からミサイルが飛んできたら、あなたはどうする?).

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