Articles Real Estate Information What you should do when you experience an earthquake in Japan

What you should do when you experience an earthquake in Japan

Japan is known to have frequent earthquakes but this is already considered a regular occurrence. If you experience one in Japan, here's what you should do.

Recently two relatively strong earthquakes hit Japan, one on May 5th, 2023 in the area of Ishikawa Prefecture and another on 11th in the area of Chiba Prefecture. The latter was felt in many places including Tokyo. Today, we are going to look at the earthquakes in Japan and what you should do if you experience one.

1. Why does Japan have so many earthquakes?

First, let’s look at the reasons why Japan has many earthquakes. To talk about this, we need to remember what we learned at school – tectonic plates. The surface of the Earth is covered with seven major tectonic plates that are moving at a very slow pace of about a few centimeters a year. Japan is located where four of these tectonic plates meet. The tectonic plates collide, sink or pull apart at the boundaries, which causes earthquakes.

2. What are the scales of intensity I see on TV?

If you have experienced an earthquake in Japan, you probably have seen the numbers shown on the map of Japan on TV as the newscaster reports on the earthquake that has just occurred. The Japan Meteorological Agency has a unique seismic scale called “shindo” that measures the degree of shaking in the event of an earthquake. This scale ranging from 0 to 7 is different from an earthquake’s magnitude, which is a numerical value reflecting the energy of the temblor at its source.

▼Shindo intensity scale (source: Japan Meteorological Agency)

See what will happen in and outside of a building depending on the intensity here.

3. Are the buildings in Japan prepared for earthquakes?

According to the survey conducted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, about 87% of the residential houses in Japan are built in conformity with the seismic resistance standards under the Building Standards Act as of 2018, and the government is aiming to raise this percentage to almost 100% by 2030. The current seismic resistance standards are based on the guideline that buildings should suffer almost no damage from medium-scale earthquakes (shindo 5 or higher) and no collapse or other damage that could endanger human lives from large-scale earthquakes (shindo 6 to 7).

Cityscape of Tokyo, Japan.

4. How do I know an earthquake is coming?

The Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system in Japan provides advance announcement of the estimated seismic intensities and expected arrival time of principal motion. From the warning to the actual motion, it may take only a few seconds. The EEW is aimed at mitigating earthquake-related damage by allowing countermeasures such as promptly slowing down trains, controlling elevators to avoid danger and enabling people to quickly protect themselves in various environments such as factories, offices, houses and near cliffs. If your smartphone is under a contract with any major telecom company in Japan, you should be able to opt for receiving the warnings on your phone. Alternatively, you may download apps such as NERV, Yurekuru or Yahoo Bosai for the warnings, and NHK World TV for news updates in different languages.

5. What should I do actually?

If you get a warning,

(1.) When you are at home:

Protect your head. Hide under a table to protect yourself from any falling object. Do not rush out of the house.

(2.) When you are in a public facility:

Follow the instructions of the facility staff. Keep calm and do not rush to the exit.

(3.) When you are driving:

Do not brake suddenly. Use the hazard lights to draw attention of the other drivers and slow down. If you feel a strong shaking, pull over to the left side of the road.

(4.) When you are on a train or bus:

Hold onto a hanging strap or handrail in the train/bus.

(5.) When you are in an elevator:

Stop the elevator at a nearest floor and leave the car.

Passengers in the train.

6. How do I prepare for future earthquakes?

It is always good to be prepared. People living in Japan are recommended to prepare grab-and-go bags with basic disaster supplies. Here are some of the things you would need in case of an emergency:

  • • Water
  • • Food (non-perishable food such as noodle soup cups, biscuits, chocolate, etc.)
  • • Flashlight
  • • First aid kit
  • • Extra batteries
  • • Helmets
  • • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • • Manual can opener (for food)
  • • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

You could also refer to this website to assemble your emergency kit.

The earthquakes are scary, but we should remember that the same tectonic plates and the volcanic activity have also created many of the beautiful landscapes in Japan. Knowing what to do in case of an earthquake is a first step toward to your safe and enjoyable stay.

Looking for a holiday home in Japan? Contact our PropertyAccess team here.