By Alison Rodgers and Ikuno Suzuki
On September 1, 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake struck Tokyo, Yokohama, and surrounding regions. Measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, Japan experienced unprecedented damage caused by the calamity. This was the first and worst natural disaster experienced by Japan in the modern era, where nearly two million people were affected plus some 100,000 lost or missing.
To commemorate this tragedy, the national government designated September 1st Disaster Prevention Day and September as Disaster Prevention Month in Japan. Throughout September, many local governments, community centers, and NGOs organize emergency drills and disaster-related events.
We urge everyone in the community to join these events and learn how to save yourself and your loved ones in case of an emergency. Below are some suggestions you can immediately take to prepare plus some useful links providing more comprehensive information.
Get Localized Information
- Visit your local city hall either online or in person. There is often information listing shelter locations, suggestions for your family, and useful phone numbers. Many cities have this information in multiple languages.
- Be aware of signage (like this one) while walking. It will direct you to appropriate evacuation routes and shelters.
- Prepare emergency bags (see below) for household members in advance. You can make one yourself or buy them pre-made.
- Memorize important numbers including your family’s cell phone numbers. Learn the emergency numbers; 110 for an accident or crime, 119 for an ambulance, rescue service, and fire, and 118 for the Coast Guard.
- Turn on phone alerts. Most phones have a notification option for local emergencies (usually in Japanese only).
- Check the JMA. The Japan Meteorological Agency posts up-to-date alerts and warnings
Preparing Emergency Bags
Emergency bags are useful in case you must leave your home. NHK compiled a great list of things to include in an emergency bag for the home, outdoor usage, or office. Typically, bags include a few days’ worth of nonperishable foods plus seven days of water per person, a first aid kit, basic tools, lighting devices/batteries, sanitation supplies, and personal hygiene items.
Make sure to personalize your bag for each person and pet. Papers should be placed in a sealed waterproof bag or laminated. Important items to include are:
- a copy of documents such as passports, ID cards, or driver’s licenses
- names and ages of family members and emergency contacts (make an ID necklace to place around the neck of those who cannot advocate for themselves) just in case you get separated
- allergy and medical information plus extra medication
- extra glasses/contacts
- a book or magazine for distraction
For babies/small kids:
- diapers and wipes
- teething rings
- antihistamines/calamine lotion
- portable playpen and blanky
- toys/coloring books and crayons for distraction
- bowls and food
- leashes and tags
- litter bin
- a pet jacket or paw protectors
If you want to buy a pre-made emergency bag visit your home center or look online at any major seller. Search “emergency kit” or copy this kanji into your web browser “防災セット” (disaster preparedness set).
Formulate A Plan
Designate an easy-to-reach space in your home to keep all emergency bags and supplies (think grab and go). Adults and older children can carry their bags but items for small children and pets must be included in an adult bag. Next, walk around your neighborhood and familiarize yourself with the evacuation routes and shelters. Designate a meeting point outside of your home.
Don’t forget to check your local area for organized disaster drill practices or disaster preparedness centers. They provide fire, earthquake, and rescue simulations, information on food distribution procedures, and even teach basic first aid courses. If you arrange ahead, there may be foreign language assistance.
We cannot prevent disasters however we can better prepare for them. Stay safe!
For additional information, please visit these pages.
Japan Times: Japan Disaster News and Information
U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Japan: Emergency Preparedness for Americans in Japan
*A special thank you to Ikuno Suzuki for providing us with the background on the origin of Disaster Prevention Month and Disaster Prevention Day