Earthquakes are an unavoidable part of life here in Japan. About 1,500 earthquakes occur yearly. Minor tremors occur almost daily somewhere in Japan which may cause slight swaying of buildings. During the Great East Japan Earthquake/Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011, many areas of Chiba experienced an intensity of 5+. In the northern areas of the prefecture, power outages were experienced from immediately after the earthquake until the following day. In the proceeding days, fresh food supplies in shops and supermarkets ran low, and gasoline was being rationed.

How to check for train delays due to typhoon, etc.
How to read Japanese alerts on TV, apps, etc.

Quick Tips:

Be prepared: There is only so much you can do once disaster hits. You are responsible for your own safety.
Earthquake (地震 jishin): open the door to clear your escape and take cover under a table. When the tremors subside, check for tsunami/evacuation warnings. Be careful of falling objects.
Tsunami (津波): evacuate immediately to high ground. If you cannot reach high ground within 5-10 minutes, take shelter on the upper floor of a tall building.
Typhoon (台風 taifū): take inside/secure laundry, bicycles, and any outdoor belongings. Be careful of flooding, strong winds, and traffic delays and try to stay inside.
Contact: After you have secured your safety, contact your supervisor and your Block Coordinator. Your BC will contact the PAs. Save important phone numbers in your phone and on paper in case your phone dies during an emergency.

Read in more detail below.

How and What to Prepare

Download a handout with basic disaster preparation info (contains what to do, useful phrases, and website links):
  • Know Your Evacuation Area

    You should make at least one trip to your closest evacuation area near your home to familiarize yourself on how to get there. You might need to know two evacuation sites: one on high ground in case of a tsunami and a separate refugee shelter. Sometimes these are the same place. Your local phone book most likely has a map (防災マップ&避難場所リスト). If you're in an unfamiliar area, schools and community centers are a safe bet. You can also visit Yahoo's Evacuation Center List (Japanese) and select your city from the drop down menu to see a list of evacuation centers in your area, as well as their addresses.
    There are three levels of evacuation warnings:
    1. Evacuation Preparation (避難準備 hinan junbi): Begin preparations in case you need to evacuate.
    2. Evacuation Recommended (避難勧告 hinan kankoku): Residents should evacuate to their nearest refuge area.
    3. Evacuation Order (避難指示 hinan shiji): All residents must evacuate to their nearest refuge area immediately.
    There are three kinds of evacuation areas:
    1. Emergency Evacuation Sites (避難場所 Hinanbasho): Elementary/junior/high schools, community centers, parks, and other sites for temporary evacuation.
    2. Emergency Evacuation Shelters (避難所 Hinanjo): Facilities that can be used as temporary shelter/overnight stay if housing is lost or damaged, and where supplies will be delivered. After evacuating to an Emergency Evacuation Site (避難場所 hinanbasho), relocate to a Shelter (避難所 hinanjo) if necessary when it is safe to do so.
    3. Broad-Area Evacuation Sites (広域避難場所 Kouiki Hinanbasho): Open areas like parks for safety from the heat/smoke of large fires.
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  • Emergency kits

    These can be purchased or you can prepare your own. Make sure everything is in an easy to carry bag (preferably a backpack) and place it somewhere easily accessible. If you live in on the coast you should definitely prepare an emergency pack in case of tsunami. Here are just some things you might want to include in your kit:
    • 3 days worth of food and water for yourself
    • Change of clothes and underwear (preferably for 3 days)
    • Copy of your passport and residence card
    • Extra doses of any medication you absolutely need
    • Copy of any emergency contact info you may need
    • Flashlight (torch) and a hand crank radio
    • Cash
    • Optional: Batteries, plastic bags (sealable), matches, lighters, candles, wet tissues, body wipes, dry shampoo, paper towels, rope, scissors/knife, first aid kit, industrial grade facemask, space blanket, etc. (recommended by survivors of the Kobe Earthquake)
  • Contact information

    Contact tree in the event of an emergency (JETs=blue, WI-ALTs=green):
    Chiba JETWI Safety Confirmation Flowchart.pngSave the following numbers (work phone/cell/landline) in your phone and on paper in your emergency kit. How you will contact them if phone lines are down?
    • Your supervisor/contracting organization
    • Your Block Coordinator
    • Your PAs
    • Nearby ALTs/CIRs, Japanese neighbors, friends in your area
  • Register with your home country's embassy

    Your home country's embassy can help forward you information specific to your nationality and language about safety conditions, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, etc. If you register, they can contact your family and friends back home in the case of an emergency.
    Americans should register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP); you can get emergency and living information for Americans in Japan sent from the Embassy straight to your email.
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  • Disaster-proof your house

    Many home goods stores have an Earthquake Safety (地震対策 jishin taisaku) section where you can buy sticky pads to keep your TV from falling over and wedges to put under heavy furniture so it won't topple over. Try to arrange your furniture with earthquakes in mind--no heavy things hanging above your bed, etc. After finishing your laundry, turn off the water; after cooking, turn off the gas to your stove. Make sure anything you put outside (laundry poles, bikes) can be secured or taken inside in case of a typhoon.
  • Learn emergency Japanese phrases

    Learn vocabulary related to natural disasters and emergencies (see the list below). Often the fastest and most accurate information will be Japanese-only, and memorizing a few key kanji like 警報 (keihou, warning) and 避難 (hinan, evacuate/take shelter) can help you understand it. You should also learn to read the kanji for your town/city and a few others nearby so that you can get information for your area. Even if you do speak Japanese, these words are pretty rare unless there is an emergency, so it's good to brush up. There are great disaster word lists in the Useful Japanese for JETs and also in the back of the Niigata guide to earthquake safety called "Earthquake Safety for You and Your Family" available online as a PDF. It has also step-by-step instructions and useful tips to remember.
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  • Find reliable sources of information

    Bookmark sites like the Chiba Prefecture Disaster Prevention Site (English/Japanese) and download an emergency alert app. Your cell phone provider will also send you area emergency alerts (エリアメール area mail) based on the Japan Meteorological Agency (気象庁 kishouchou), which you can read more about below. These alerts come when an major earthquake is just about to occur, giving you a few precious seconds to move to a safe location and brace yourself. It is mandatory for Japanese phones to receive earthquake early warning alerts, but overseas manufacturers (Apple, LG, HTC) may not support this function. Apple iPhones 4 and later receive earthquake alerts (緊急速報 kinkyuu sokuhou) (turn them on in "Settings").
    While earthquakes and volcano eruptions can happen at any time, it is a good idea to regularly check the weather to know when to expect a typhoon, snowstorm, heavy rain, tornado, severe heat/cold, etc. Yahoo's 防災速報 app has area alerts for all severe weather patterns.

    Many of these sources are in Japanese, but you can read them by memorizing a few kanji and phrases. Test your Japanese and look at some sample alerts here.
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Towns without links: follow the area mail alerts provided by your phone company or subscribe to a neighboring city's alerts.
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What to Do in Case of an Emergency

What to do in case of an earthquake

Secure your own safety first!
  • open a door or window to clear your escape (the door frame could warp and trap you)
  • take cover under a table or in the bathroom
  • when the tremors subside, turn off the gas for your stove burner
  • check your house for small fires and fallen objects
  • check your radio, TV, internet, phone, or local broadcast system for more information and tsunami warnings (how?). Get your information from official sources.
  • if you are driving, do NOT stop suddenly. When it is safe to do so, pull over to the side of the road, turn off your car, and put on the parking brake. Do not stop under an overpass or something that can fall on your car. If you need to evacuate, take your valuables and leave the doors unlocked with the key in the car and evacuate on foot.
  • if you are outside, move away from tall buildings, power lines, and other things that could fall on you
  • if you are on the train, the train will make an emergency stop. Brace yourself to keep from falling over. Follow crew members' instructions.
  • do NOT panic and rush outside. Do NOT try to secure objects or move around during the earthquake. Take cover and wait until the tremors stop.
Contact your supervisor/Contracting Organization and your Block Coordinator. Your BC will contact a PA.
  • BCs: Blocks 1, 2, 4, 7, 8 contact Rebecca; Blocks 3, 5, 6 contact Zach
  • after you have secured your own safety, try to contact your school/workplace, Japanese neighbors, and nearby ALTs/CIRs
  • only after you have contacted these people should you try to contact your embassy and family/friends back home. They may be concerned for your safety but they are the farthest away and cannot help you in an emergency.
  • after a major disaster, the phone lines will be overloaded. Try to use the phone as little as possible.
If you can't contact anyone, use the NTT Disaster Emergency Message service.
  • Use the NTT Disaster Emergency Message services (災害用伝言ダイヤル saigai-you dengon dial) to post a message that others can access even if phone lines are down or overloaded. The service is only available in the event of a disaster and only accessible in Japan. (You can find out how to access your provider's message board via the links above)
    • How to use the Disaster Emergency Message Board (English/Japanese) aka web 171 (text message board, PC accessible): English manual (PDF), Japanese (link)
    • How to use the Disaster Message Exchange (English/Japanese) aka 171 (voice message):
      • To enter a message: dial 171, then 1, then your area code and phone number, then record your message.
      • To check a message: dial 171, then 2, then the phone number you want to check
If you need to evacuate:
  • if your city hall or other local authority has given the order to evacuate (or if you feel it is necessary), grab your emergency pack, turn off the main gas valve/electricity breaker to prevent fires, and evacuate to the evacuation site or shelter.
  • elementary and junior high schools are designated evacuation areas
  • do not use elevators, even if they appear to be working
  • when you go outside, be careful of falling objects
  • help neighbors and others around you. Rescue services may not be able to get to you right away.

What to do in case of a tsunami

Get to high ground!
  • natural warnings include earthquakes, the sea rapidly receding from the shore, rumbling noise from the ocean. After an earthquake, check whether or not there is a tsunami warning (how?).
  • evacuate IMMEDIATELY to high ground. If you are at home, grab your emergency pack if you can, but save your life, not your belongings! It only takes 8-10 min for a 3-meter tsunami to reach land after an earthquake.
  • there is no way to know how high waves will be. To be safe, get as far inland as you can.
  • if you cannot reach high ground within 5-10 minutes, take shelter on the upper floor of a tall building.
  • do NOT go near the coast to "see if you can see the waves." If you can see the tsunami coming, it is too late for you to evacuate.
  • after evacuating, stay there until it is safe to return. There are usually multiple waves, sometimes over hours, and the first is usually not the largest. Aftershocks can generate additional waves.
After securing your safety, contact your supervisor/Contracting Organization and your Block Coordinator. Your BC will contact a PA.

What to do in case of a typhoon

Stay at home!
  • take inside or secure laundry, bicycles, and any outdoor belongings
  • be careful of flooding, strong winds, and heavy rain
  • expect traffic delays (both train and car)
  • try to stay inside at home if possible
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What is the Shindo Seismic Intensity Scale?

The Shindo Scale (震度, technically 気象庁震度階級 kishouchou shindo kaikyuu or the "Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale") is a scale from 0-7 that measures the intensity of earthquakes. While magnitude measures the energy released by an earthquake at its epicenter, an earthquake's shindo measures how strong the shaking feels, and varies from place to place. You will often see earthquakes reported as "震度4: 銚子市、旭市 震度5弱: 成田市 佐倉市" "Shindo 4 in Choshi, Asahi; Shindo weak 5 in Narita, Sakura." You will probably not be able to feel Shindo 1 or 2 unless you are sitting quietly, but for your reference, get familiar with the chart below.
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Japanese Meteorological Agency warning levels and what they mean

Coming soon

Japanese disaster vocabulary

falling objects
seismic intensity
initial/main earthquake
tsuyoi (kyou)/yowai (jaku)
shaking/tremor, to shake
hinan (suru)
evacuation (to evacuate, take shelter)
keikai (suru)
to take caution
ampi kakunin
safety confirmation
disaster prevention
(bousai) kunren
(disaster) drill, such as fire/earthquake drill
hinan junbi
Warning: Evacuation Preparation
hinan kankoku
Warning: Evacuation Recommended
hinan shiji
Warning: Evacuation Order
hinan basho
Emergency Evacuation Sites
hinan jo
Emergency Evacuation Shelters
kouiki hinan basho
Broad-Area Evacuation Sites
measures to prevent/respond (to a disaster)
tokubetsu keihou
emergency warning (more urgent)
warning (urgent)
advisory (less urgent)
safety (安心 is more emotional/psychological safety, 安全 is physical safety)
above sea level
tsunami no shimpai wa arimasen
There is no risk of tsunami.
disaster victim
affected area
person trapped under collapsed building
ishiki ga nai
yukue fumei
missing (person)
unkou jouhou
service information
unkou joukyou
service status
(ressha) chien
(train) delay/running late
unten miawase
service stopped and will resume as soon as possible
service is stopped, cancelled
unten saikai
service resumed
heijou unten
trains are running normally
jinshin jiko
passenger injury
taifuu no eikyou de
due to the typhoon

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Further Reading

  • Earthquake safety for you and your family (from Niigata)

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避難所(Hinanjo) Emergency Evacuation Shelters