It has been exactly 6 years since the great East Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster. On March 11, 2011, an earthquake of 9 magnitudes hit the Tohoku region, followed by an enormous tsunami and nuclear disaster. Aftershocks shook many areas of Japan, causing problems in the capital Tokyo as well. Many Japanese still remember this day as one of the scariest days of their lives.
If you are planning a trip to Japan, you probably have taken the possibility of an earthquake in accord. Earthquakes don’t occur everyday, they’re often small and you might not even notice them. However, you never know when the big one will come. No matter how small the chances of a great-scale earthquake were and no matter how short time your stay is, it is possible that an earthquake will occur during your stay.
I’m not saying you should stop coming to Japan because of earthquakes. What I want to say is that you should know the risks and you should know how to make your chances of surviving the earthquake as well as you can before going to Japan.
Today I’m going to tell you briefly but still clearly enough what you should do if an earthquake occurs while you’re in Japan. However, you should remember that you can never predict what will happen and there might be situations where you might be better off not following some of the directions below. Even though you should always follow the official orders and directions, you should also trust your own instinct sometimes.
If you’re inside a house:
1. Don’t run outside. Being inside a house is usually considered the safest but this really depends on how well built the house is. I live in a rather new mansion that has said to be very highly earthquake resistant and it had no damage in the large series of earthquakes 6 years ago so I always feel relatively safe. However, this is not the case for everyone as there are still buildings that might fall apart if hit by a big earthquake. That being said, even if you are in a house that feels unsafe, hiding under a sturdy furniture is still often recommended over evacuating outside. If you go outside, the possibilities of something falling on you are often higher than inside.
2. Secure an escape route. In short, open the outside door or a window, whichever is closer and easier to open. This is very important point as doors and windows will sometimes might not open after a quake. However, in case the quake is very strong and you believe you would end up falling and hurting yourself hurrying to the door, you might be better off just covering yourself. As a tip, under the doorway is often considered a very safe spot so if there’s no glass or items that might fall on you beside the door, standing under the doorway might not be a bad idea either.
3. Take a cover under a stable furniture and stay away from windows and other breakable glass items. I used to always get under the dinner table as fast as I can since the table is very sturdy and strong. However, I recently realized that the glass cabinet next to the table might break in a big quake and decided to change my shelter spot. Even if you were to come to Japan just for a short holiday, you should always decide on a spot to go when an earthquake hits.
4. Turn off the gas. This is actually not your top priority if you live in a new building as the gas system is designed so that it will turn off automatically in case of an earthquake. Therefore, if you live in a building like this, aside from turning off the gas, you should focus on protecting yourself. In case you’re cooking the moment the quake hits, you should use a few seconds to turn off the fire but you should definitely prioritize opening the door and/or a window over turning off the gas.
5. Always have at least flashlight, water & food prepared for the emergency. I’ll write a more comprehensive post later about preparations you can do but for now, just make sure you have at least these prepared at your home. If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel staff will likely have something for the emergency situation but you shouldn’t rely on that too much: just in case, you should always have some food – even just snacks – and something to drink in your room as well. Most hotel rooms have a flashlight prepared but if your room doesn’t have, go to the nearest 100yen shop and buy one. You will be happy you bought it if a big earthquake occurs and the power outage will occur, especially if it’s night time.
6. Make sure there isn’t anything that could fall on your head while you’re sleeping. If you’re living in Japan, place your furniture so that there’s nothing big that could fall on you during night. If you’re in a hotel and you notice there’s a piece of furniture that looks like it might fall on you while you’re sleeping, you should contact the hotel staff.
If you’re outside:
7. Don’t panic and always follow the directions and orders of the police or whoever there is to guide you if there is one. If you can’t understand Japanese and there’s no English guiding available, just try to follow the example of people around you.
8. Stay away from tile walls and other structures that look like they might fall apart. Remember that utility poles and vending machines can also fall so don’t take shelter beside them. Be careful of big buildings as well – breaking windows might fall onto you. You might be fooled to think you’re safe when there’s only big, highly earthquake resistant office buildings around you but no matter how resistant to earthquakes they were, windows might break. If you’re in the middle of an office block when an earthquake hits, protect your head with a bag or a coat and try to get into safer place.
9. If you’re near a river or a sea, move away from it to high ground as fast as possible. There’s a possibility of tsunami. In case you know Japanese, you should take a look at a hazard map beforehand as it will tell you the spots that are the most dangerous in case of tsunami. You can find links to hazard maps of different areas of Tokyo here.
10. If you are on a train, get down and protect your head. If you are at a station, move away from the tracks so you don’t fall from the platform and crouch down. Never panic and run in places with lots of people.
11. If you’re inside an elevator, try to get out as fast as possible. If you feel any shaking, press the buttons of the closest stops as fast as possible. When the doors open, make sure the floor is safe before leaving the elevator. If the elevator stops moving and you get stuck inside, try not to panic, call for help and wait.
+ 12. Check the refuge spot information beforehand. By doing this, you will know where to go if the place you’re staying at collapses. If you’re traveling together with someone, you should talk about your evacuation plan beforehand, preferably before coming to Japan.
If you feel like you won’t remember all the tips above, just try to remember this one: do not panic. There are a lot earthquakes in Japan but most of them are not dangerous unless you panic and start running around. Even if you a great earthquake were to occur while you were in Japan, panicking is only going to make matters worse. I hate earthquakes myself and am pretty scared of them but I have managed to not panic so far – I’m sure you can do it too.
Just in case you’re reading this article before the 11th March has ended in Japan, take a one minute of your life and head over to yahoo.jp. They have a project ongoing which will contribute 10yen to the groups working for the recovery of Tohoku every single time when someone uses the Yahoo search term “3.11”. I’m not sure how well this works from overseas but you won’t lose much of your time trying.