TOPTokyo LifeGuides & InsightsWhat To Do During an Earthquake in Japan – for Travelers & Residents

What To Do During an Earthquake in Japan – for Travelers & Residents

By Joe Peters

As a Pacific Ring-of-Fire nation, Japan averages 40 to 50 earthquakes or tremors every day. Most are so small that the majority of people don’t even feel them unless they are in the M2, M3 or greater range. The most recalled earthquake, the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake, was magnitude 9.1 and resulted in over 18,000 deaths (including the missing), mainly from the resulting tsunami.

Over a dozen M6 or greater earthquakes have shaken up the country in various areas since that time, but thousands more have barely been felt, lasted only a few seconds, or were not felt at all. If you’ve never experienced an earthquake even a M3 shaker can be scary. If the earth keeps rocking and rolling for more than a few seconds it’s a good idea to take precautions.

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1. How to Prepare an Emergency Kit

If you’re a resident of Japan you have surely heard or read that you need to have an emergency kit in a quickly accessible place. Pre-made kits are available, but it’s not difficult to prepare your own. All you need is a backpack and supplies to store inside it.

There are plenty of information sources available on the internet to help you decide what to put into your kit. It’s also a good idea to do a monthly, or at a minimum quarterly, drill with your family so everyone knows where the kit is and what to do with it. These drills also a good time to check the expiration date on the items in there and replace expired goods.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has compiled a comprehensive English-language guidebook available to download online for free.

2. Where to Find Shelter During an Earthquake

This is also the time to make sure everyone in the family knows where the nearest safety area or shelter is, and the family’s plan for contacting each other when the shake hits the fan. For several hours after the Tohoku earthquake it was nearly impossible to get through to family and friends by phone, but apps like Line, WhatsApp and Viber worked.

Your family members should have, and know how to use, your family’s app of choice for emergencies when the phone circuits may be overloaded. While you’re at it, put those passports and other important documents in a quick-to-grab place, too.

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3. Earthquake Preparation Tips

Whether a visitor or a resident, there are a number of other things you will want to keep in mind to do during a major earthquake. With the 2020 Olympics most visitors will be in Tokyo, but these tips are relevant no matter where you are in Japan if the “big one” strikes while you are here.

Keep a pair of slippers by your bed. It’s nice to get the shoes off the old dogs after a long day of trekking around Japan, or up and down those subway steps, but if the earth starts moving while you’re fast asleep, those slippers can help you avoid cutting your feet in the event of broken window glass, or for protection from any sharp cornered objects that may fall to the floor.

If you’re in a building when the event occurs you’re safest bet is likely to be to remain in the building, especially if you’re in a newer building as buildings are built to be earthquake resistant. The collapse ratio is supposed to be extremely low. However, stay away from windows and be mindful that items may fall from shelves, or ceiling tiles may dislodge and fall. Move to a stair landing, a doorway, or pillar. If you are using a shopping basket it can become a temporary helmet. Whether indoors or out, use whatever is at hand to protect your head; your handbag, a guidebook, a cushion – anything that can help prevent a head injury.

The Japan Tourism Organization has an android and iPhone app called Safety Tips that provides information alerts in multiple languages.

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4. What To Do if You are Outside the Home

In a train or subway station move back from the tracks to avoid falling onto the rails. Stand near a pillar. If you’re on an escalator you should be holding on to the handrail to avoid a tumble when it suddenly stops. If you’re in a train it will likely stop. Stay in the train.

Outdoors, get to the nearest open space and away from buildings. The buildings may be earthquake proof, but tiles, glass, and signboards can fall causing serious injury or death.

Once you are safe use one of the aforementioned apps to contact family members. Let them know you’re safe and if they are in Japan decide where to meet and how to get there.

For more information about how to handle any emergency situation in Japan, the General Insurance Association of Japan provides information online in multiple languages. 

Feature image by Andrey VP /