If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you may be concerned about earthquakes. In fact, there are roughly 1,500 earthquakes every year in Japan. It is important to be prepared before and during your trip so here are some life-saving tips!
Why is Japan Prone to Earthquakes?
Japan is located in the Ring of Fire, a region that is a hotbed for volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean. A whopping 90% of all earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire because of movement of tectonic plates.
Japan is positioned at the intersection between four tectonic plates: the North American, Pacific, Eurasian, and Philippine plates. When these plates, or parts of Earth’s crust move, their collisions can create earthquakes.
Understanding How Japan Measures Earthquakes
You may be more familiar with the Richter Scale or Moment Magnitude Scale, but Japan uses the Shindo scale. It is critical to understand what the numbers mean if you get an alert or see the news in Japan. Magnitude scales measure the energy that the earthquake generates from its center while the Shindo scale measures the severity of the shaking you would feel on the surface.
An earthquake will always have one magnitude, but depending on your location there can be varying Shindo readings. The Richter scale tends to range from 0 to 9, but there is technically no upper limit. This is in contrast with the Shindo scale which has 10 distinct levels, from 0 to 7, but with 5 and 6 split between upper and lower.
Earthquakes at 5 lower or more, a stage where people start to feel startled and need to hold onto a support, are considered major. Check out the Japan Meteorological Agency’s summary table for the Shindo Scale here!
Myths About Earthquake Safety
Let’s get some common misconceptions out of the way first! Here are some myths about earthquake safety:
- Do NOT run outside during an earthquake. Many buildings in Japan have been built according to stringent anti-seismic standards. Running while the ground is shaking is not only difficult but dangerous as you may lose your balance and get injured. Shattering windows, falling signposts, and other objects can pose more of a risk when outside.
- Doorways are not safer. In most modern houses, doorways are not necessarily structurally stronger than other parts of the building. Standing can mean losing your balance and only holding the doorpost means your head is vulnerable to flying objects.
What to do Before and During an earthquake
- Research nearby evacuation centers (known as hinanjo) ahead of time.
- Turn off any flammable appliances and close any gas valves.
- Prepare a small earthquake kit. Include items like a flashlight, basic first aid kit, water, extra batteries, and a whistle.
- If inside a building: Drop, Cover, Hold on. Walking upright when the ground is shaking is dangerous as you may fall and get injured. Crawl and seek cover under a table or any type of furniture that can protect you from falling objects. Steer clear of windows and heavy objects and hold onto the furniture for stability.
Even if you are inside a high rise building, do not try to get into the elevator or run for the stairs! Drop, cover, hold on. And once you have inspected for any damage and if given an evacuation order, then make your way out of the building.
- If outside on the street: Use any jacket or backpack to protect your head and steer clear from windows, signposts, and other falling debris. Remember you cannot run away from an earthquake. It is safer to drop and cover in an open area.
- If inside of an elevator: Hit all of the floor buttons, starting with the ones closest to where you are. This allows the elevator to stop at the nearest floor if it can, allowing you to get off immediately. If the elevator is still not moving, check if the doors are open. If they are, press them closed, and retry the buttons. If all else fails, press the emergency call button or use a hard object to bang on the surface of the elevator. This will alert others that you are stuck without exhausting your voice. Check for an emergency supply box, as some elevators are equipped with one!
- If in a train: Use any bags to cover your head. If standing, crouch down. If the train is too crowded to do this, grab a handrail or strap. The train may come to a sudden halt, stay calm and follow the instructions of the train crew!
- NHK World App for breaking news and earthquake/tsunami alerts
- Yurekuru Call: We previously mentioned this app as a life saver and it really is! This Japanese earthquake app uses information from the Japanese Meteorological Agency’s Earthquake Early Warning System to alert users of oncoming quakes.
- Japan Earthquakes (@QuakesJapan) provides twitter updates about earthquakes in Japan
- J1 Japan Earthquakes is a Twitter account connected to the J1 radio station. It relays real time earthquake early warning and details from the Japanese Meteorological Agency
- The Japan Meteorological Society Earthquake Map is a nice visual map of live earthquakes based on data from the Japan Meteorological society.
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Disaster prevention information web page provides more in depth information about earthquake safety procedures. The page includes an earthquake simulation and a manga panel.
- If you plan on living in Japan long-term, it might be helpful to visit the nearest evacuation museum to you! For example, the Honjo Bosaikan life safety learning center. You can take a short class about disaster protocols for earthquakes and tsunamis.
Earthquakes should not be a deterrent to traveling to Japan if you remember the safety tips we covered in this post and use the above resources! So please, don’t allow the possibility of an earthquake to stop you from experiencing all the great things this wonderful country has to offer!
Feature Photo credits: RuinDig/Yuki Uchida on Wikimedia Commons
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