How to Survive When That BIG Quake Comes

Features - March 22nd, 1974
Surviving quake

by Susan L. Scully

It all started one evening last December, when we were waiting for that catastrophic earthquake that Nostradamus (or was it Ted Gormick?) had predicted was going to demolish Tokyo and everyone in it. My next-door neighbor, Eva Larsen, myself and our respective husbands Thor and Tom were sitting around swilling brandy and solving the world’s problems when the subject turned to the impend­ing disaster.

“Maybe we ought to put together an earthquake kit…you know, first-aid supplies, food, warm clothing,” Eva suggested.

“Yeah,” I responded, enthusiasm oozing from every pore. “Great idea. I’ll call you next week.” A month later, Eva was on the phone to say that she had scheduled 17 consecutive days off from her job as a consultant for Max Factor and what about the earthquake kits? “Yeah,” I said. “OK, I’ll call you tomorrow and we’ll fix a date to start.” A week later, Eva was at the door to say that her 17 consecu­tive days off had begun and it was now or never.

“Yeah,” I said, “OK. I’ll call Jean Pearce (thinking that she might have some miraculous solution that would allow me to stay firmly planted on my behind). She’ll have some information for us to start with and we’ll get going.”

By this time, of course, I was beginning to get just the tiniest bit apprehensive. In the end, I don’t know whether it was visions of my beautiful baby a victim of the storm—cold, hungry, hurting and minus warm clothing, food, medication—or fear for my own safety and comfort that motivated me.

But I did finally call Jean, we did get some information from her and from several other helpful souls, and we did put together an earth­quake disaster kit. Here’s how:

We started by making a couple of basic deci­sions. The first was to put together two types of kits: one, a master family kit containing first-aid supplies, cooking utensils, copies of vital documents and other items that would be essential to one or more members of the family; the second, indi­vidual kits containing food, clothing and medication (see complete list next page) needed by each particular individual in the family.

In trying to balance the ideal (a complete kit for everyone in the family) against the practical (too damned expensive), we operated on the assumption that anyone caught somewhere other than home during a quake would probably be better off staying put. And anyone getting home under the circumstances probably wouldn’t need first aid anyway.

Our second major decision was not to use flight bags or any other kind of bag…too cumbersome. But rather furoshiki, that ingeni­ous Japanese invention that can: 1) expand or contract depending on what it’s wrapped around; 2) be tied around one’s waist, leaving both hands free; 3) become a number of other things…a sling, a bandage, a tourniquet, a gar­ment, a stretcher, to name a few.

These considerations in mind, we launched our earthquake kit project, heading first for the sporting goods stores of Kanda-Surugadai. To get an idea of what might be available there, we started at the grand-daddy of them all, the Mizuno emporium (located at 3-1 Ogawa-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tel. 294-1211). Subsequently, we poked about in numerous other smaller establ­ishments, but for price, variety and quantity we might as well have stayed at Mizuno’s.

The camping section on the first floor proved to be a particular gold mine. Here we found dried foods that need only the addition of water (hot or cold) to make them edible. Designed for campers, our Alpha Rice (¥135 per packet) and Jiffy’s meshi (a combination of rice and various ingredients such as eggs, mushrooms, beef, etc., and priced at ¥110) can be prepared in their own containers.

Here also we found White Bear Camper’s Fuel, the large size good for up to nine hours of heat, priced at only ¥400; Toshiba K-63 plastic flashlights at ¥330; heavy mountaineering socks at ¥550; string gloves at ¥100 a pair. (Our neighborhood hardware store supplied strong leather work gloves for ¥300 a pair to wear over these—a “must” if you have to dig through any heavy rubble—and thanks to husband Tom for the suggestion.)

I have this thing about falling objects. . .say a sign on the fourth story of a building is just loosened enough by the quake to come crashing down on your head in a strong wind afterwards. So we started looking for helmets. And, at Mizuno’s, were lucky enough to find two junior sized ski racing helmets on sale for ¥1,000. The others we spotted ran in excess of ¥3,000, so we figured this was a bargain.

(My office obligingly tracked down a supplier for additional constructions helmets: Tanizawa Manufacturing Co., located just east of the Ginza. The good people there told us that Weekender readers could purchase said head­gear in quantities of 30 or more for a low, low ¥800 apiece. The telephone number there is 543-9051 and Mr. Watanabe speaks English. Purchaser pick-up.)

A careful combing of the Kanda stores did not produce the kind of windbreakers we were looking for—compact, light, with elasticized wrists and a string around the waist and hood to keep out them cold north winds. These were discovered in the sports section of Ginza Matsuzakaya for ¥850 each. Made in Korea, they fit into a self-contained pocket. With allowances for bulky clothing underneath, the small size could be purchased for children up to 10; medium for young teenagers and small adults; large for anyone else, Don Moloney excepted.

For the first-aid aspect of our project, we obtained, courtesy of Weekender’s “Ikimasho” lady Nancy Bechtolt, a list of the items in a similar kit put together under the auspices ot the American School. After debating whether to buy the items at our neigh­borhood kusuriya or go to Hill Pharmacy we de­cided on the latter because it was large enough to have most everything we needed and the man in charge there speaks English.

A good idea, it transpired, for not only were we able to get just about everything on the list, but some helpful hints as well. We had been told that water purification tablets were almost impossible to obtain in Japan. True, said Hill Pharmacy, but two or three drops of Clorox left for half an hour in a liter of water will do the trick. Bicarbonate of soda powder, said the nice man, is expensive if purchased by that name. Plain old baking powder’s the same thing.

The only other item we had trouble finding was tongue depressors, (mokusei zetsuatsushi, in Japanese). The American Pharmacy has then-—sometimes—or they can be ordered in quantities of 200 or more at ¥5 apiece by call­ing 811-5685. Delivery service available.

The final thorn in our side now was how and where to ascertain our respective blood types. Having always been somewhat cavalier about these matters, we just didn’t happen to have this information at our fingertips.

Now, there are several ways of going about getting this information. One is by going to your family physician and asking him to per­form the necessary tests. Another—far cheaper and more generous by far—is to give blood at one of those Tokyo American Club/406th Medical Lab blood drives.

Being a coward, we eschewed that particular approach and, again, asked the Weekender of­fice for help. Each of Tokyo’s 23 wards has several “hokenjo” or health offices that will determine your blood type free of charge, if you will but hie yourself over there at some time during the hour and a half a week they offer this service.

We chose the Azabu Hokenjo (one of three in Minato-ku) since it was close and went over there between 9 and 10:30 on a recent Monday morning. First we were given a form to fill out and then sent to a room where a very solicitious lady doctor even managed to get blood from the tiny veins of my toddler daughter.

A week later, postcards arrived in our mail­box with—voila!—everyone’s blood types neat­ly there for all to see. Anyone, it seems, can go to any hokenjo, regardless of what ward he or she lives in. And the free service is extended to one and all, not just holders of Japanese Government Health Insurance cards, as we had feared.

And now, in our genkan, is a neatly furoshiki-wrapped first-aid kit. And, in the garage (because even if it falls down the plastic roof is light) and sealed in a teabox are six individual earthquake kits.

Yessir, the Scullys are prepared. So are the Larsens. I wasn’t a Brownie Scout for nothing.


First Aid Supplies

Items Application or Use
Alcohol Cleansing instruments and/or skin surfaces
Antiseptic powder Small abrasions and cuts
Vaseline Larger abrasions, etc.
Burn ointment
Eye drops Relief of irritation due to smoke and/or wind
Baking powder Sometimes useful as paste application for burns; internally for nausea
Bandaids Small cuts. etc.
Sterile dressings To cover larger areas
Gauze roll bandage To hold larger dressings, splints, etc.
Adhesive tape To secure dressings, bandages, etc.
Absorbent cotton Cleansing skin areas, padding splints, etc.
Elastic bandage For strains and sprains, holding dressings or splints, i.e., injuries involving entire arm or leg
Triangular bandage Sling for arm, holding scalp dressings, anchoring splints, tourniquet to control bleeding
Sterile Q-Tips Removal of foreign bodies from eyes, ears, etc. Cleansing sensitive areas, application of medication to difficult-to-reach areas, etc.
Tongue blades Application of ointment to dressings, splints for fingers, and many others
Small scissors Cutting dressings, removal of clothing, etc.
Tweezers Removal of splinters and other foreign matter
Clorox For water purification
Aspirin and/or a strong pain-killer For fever, pain, infection

Books and Documents

Xerox copies of title page of each family member’s passport

Xerox copies of title page of each family member’s alien registration or identification papers

Each family member’s blood type; medical allergies, if any; vital medication, if any

A book on first-aid procedures—as these are likely to be forgotten in the excitement

A copy of Cathay Pacific’s translation of “An Anti-Disaster Handbook in the Event of a Great Earthquake,” a limited number of which are still available through Dudley Freeman’s of­fice at Cathay; among other things, this valu­able pamphlet lists do’s and don’t in case of a quake and the safety areas in each of Tokyo’s 23 wards, where Red Cross facilities will be set up

An English-Japanese dictionary

List of important phone numbers

Other Items

A flashlight (keep the batteries separate so they won’t deteriorate)

Assorted size safety pins

Comfort items, such as soap,  toothpaste, toilet paper (optional)

Transistor radio (again, keep the batteries, sepa­rate)

A candle

Matches (in a waterproof container)

Cooking fuel

Small cooking pot

A can opener

Some money (¥10,000?)


Xerox copy of title page of passport

Xerox copy of title page of Alien Registration or identification papers

Blood type, special medications, medical allergies, if any

A sweater

A pair slacks

A windbreaker

String gloves

Leather gloves

A pair of walking shoes (heavy rubber or leather soled the best)

A pair of heavy socks (to replace the light ones when they’re wet)

A pair of light socks (to replace the heavy ones when they’re wet)

A helmet

A crayon, paper, scotch tape for leaving a message if leaving the house

Matches (waterproof container, please)

A candle

Some aspirin and/or pain killer

Several large safety pins

Several packages Alpha Rice

Several packages Jiffy Meshi

Some Instant Cup Noodles (the cup can be used by itself after the noodles are eaten)

Some chocolate bars (for quick energy)

Some raisins (for quick energy)

Money (optional)

Toothbrush (optional)

Special Items for Individual Kits

Cosmetics, a wig for women (it can’t hurt to look beautiful when you’re begging for that last seat in the rescue helicopter)

Sanitary napkins, tampons

Diapers, formula, baby food as necessary for babies

An ombu himo, the Japanese baby back pack, for carrying babies and leaving your hands free

Brandy, cigarettes, a good book

Blankets, especially for babies and small children

A month’s supply of any necessary prescription drug (don’t forget your birth-control pills)