If you live in Japan, there’s a good chance you’ll feel an earthquake pass one day or another. If you come just for the holidays, of course, the chances are less, but never say never! In any case, if you have never had one and in addition if it is important enough (greater than or equal to 5 on the Richter scale), it can be an experience, how to put it…, unpleasant. You’ll never be fully prepared, but it’s best to know what to expect and take precautions first!
Japan is an archipelago located on the pacific fire belt, result of volcanic activity due to the meeting of a number of tectonic plates, and earthquakes occur there every day. However, most are so weak that they go unnoticed.
On average, there is one significant earthquake every 3 months. The number of earthquakes per year in Japan may surprise you: the archipelago suffers about 1,000 each year, or 2 ~ 3 per day. If you are there, there may be an earthquake when you read these lines!
Because panic is a bad advisor, it’s best to stay informed and accept the possibility that you are involved in a large earthquake. You may be lucky enough to be outside or on a train and in this case you will only feel the biggest earthquakes.
On the other hand, the higher you are in a building, the more you will feel the slightest vibration. Very large earthquakes are very rare. An example is of course the 2011 earthquake off the Tōhoku Pacific coast, which was not felt throughout Japan but whose repercussions were immense.
Small earthquakes, the most frequent, will not have much impact on your daily activity. A train may be delayed by 5 minutes, as trains stop when an earthquake occurs and verify that they can safely resume normal operation. Elevators can also stop, for the same reasons.
Finally, things can fall out of your wardrobes, dressers and other cupboards but unless your apartment or house is a china store you shouldn’t have to worry about it and there are a number of things you can do. to limit damage.
The first tip is to KEEP CALM! I know it’s easier to say it than to do it but it is very important not to panic which would cause you to do anything like trying to get out of your building / house or a store ( maximum debris drop) for example.
If you are in a building:
- Stay inside.
- Protect your head and find shelter: the head is the most fragile part of the body and it must therefore be protected at all costs. Take refuge if possible under a table or a bed, protect your head with a pillow or at worst your hands in order to shield the objects that are sure to fall. Hold onto the object you have taken refuge under and prepare to follow it because it is sure to move until the earthquake is over. If there isn’t any sturdy furniture you can hide under or if you are in a hallway, squat against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms.
- Stay away from windows and glass objects: The first thing that breaks in a building due to pressure and vibrations are glass objects. So put as much distance as possible between yourself and windows, vases, glass walls and other neon lights. Generally speaking, it is best to be in the corner of a room.
- In an elevator, press all the buttons and exit as soon as the door opens.
If you are outside:
- Stay outside.
- Stay as far as possible from buildings, trees, power lines: it is during the earthquake that the fall of debris will be maximum. So you have to try to go in as open a space as possible.
- Crouch down and protect your head with your bag, suitcase or your hands at worst.
- In the mountains, pay special attention to falling rocks.
- If you are driving, try to stop in a safe place where you won’t block the road. Leave the way clear for rescue and emergency vehicles.
After the earthquake:
- Keep calm and help others.
- Prepare for aftershocks.
- Listen to the radio or television for directions from emergency service officials, and follow those guidelines.
- Turn off the gas, turn off the heating and electricity: one of the main dangers in urban centers is fire. We must therefore do everything to prevent it from triggering and spreading as in Kobe in 1995. However, wait until the end of the earthquake for that. If ever a fire breaks out, try to put it out as quickly as possible.
- Put on shoes to avoid cutting your feet on broken glass.
- Don’t go looking for your children: school takes care of it.
- Make sure you have access to food and water.
Of course, living in Japan, you will have to remember to prepare yourself BEFORE the earthquake happens:
- Register with the consulate or embassy with your family members.
- Store food (cans, dehydrated food, etc.) and water (you will need 2l per person per day). Prefer small or medium sizes to be able to distribute the load in case you have to leave your home.
- Secure all large items to the walls.
- Store them flammable liquids away from heat sources.
- Prepare an emergency plan with the whole family.
There you have it, I hope you find these tips helpful. For more information, see the articles below.