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The Traveller's Earthquake Survival Guide

An earthquake has struck! What now?

Nara Japan Earthquake survival guide what to do in an earthquake

Despite the immense appeal of Japan as a travel destination, there is no getting away from the fact that it is the most seismically active country in the world. Victim to approximately 20% of the world’s magnitude 6 or greater earthquakes, Japan is well prepared to respond to such disasters, but are you? In all honesty, there is nothing that could truly prepare you for an earthquake, however, there are a number of steps you can take as a traveler, both before coming to and after arriving in Japan to help keep you safe in the event of an earthquake.

Below are the top 9 tips we feel you should heed to help mitigate the unfortunate circumstances of being caught up in the unthinkable.

Before coming to Japan:

1. Contact your nation’s Embassy and provide them with the details of your stay and how you can be contacted. Doing this makes it easier for your Embassy to contact you in the event of a disaster and provide you with directions in your own language. It can also facilitate quicker communication between yourself and loved ones back home and provide a smoother and quicker exit should the need arise. Nations like Australia and the United States also offer Smart Traveler programs where travelers can sign up to receive updated travel information and alerts from the Embassy both before and during their stay in Japan. Check out the following links for additional information:

2. Download relevant apps. Japan has a highly advanced early earthquake warning system in place to alert the general public of an impending earthquake. The two main systems are the J-Alert and The Earthquake Early Warning System.

J-Alert (全国瞬時警報システム Zenkoku Shunji Keiho System) is a satellite based system that allows warnings to be broadcast over loud speaker, taking as little as 4 and 20 seconds to relay messages to citizens, with warnings broadcast in Japanese, English, Mandarin, Korean and Portuguese.

Nara earth earthquake

Earthquake Early Warning (緊急地震速報 Kinkyu Jishin Sokuho) is a warning issued after an earthquake predominately by the Japan Meteorological Agency, along with guidance on how to react to the warnings.

The greatest benefit to this system is that the warnings are instantly broadcast to ordinary cell phones along with an unignorable alarm which overrides any manner mode settings. This warning system is extremely effective and can provide anything up to a minutes notice before an earthquake strikes.

Earthquake Early Warning or EEW, is available to travellers via the “Yurekuru Call” app. Available for both iPhone and Android smartphones, it’s connected to Japan’s early warning system and will send you an alert if an earthquake is likely to happen in the area where you are.

Download the app for iPhone here

Download the app for Android here

For iPhone, we also highly recommend “Safety Tips". It was designed for tourists by the Japan National Tourism Organization and provides alerts and updates about earthquakes and other natural disasters. It also has multilingual communication cards to facilitate communication between tourists and local officials and residents. Download available here

3. Know what resources to check for information! The Japan National Tourism Organization and the Japan Meteorological Agency offer detailed English information about earthquakes and other natural disasters. After an earthquake, or other natural disaster, information and updates are broadcast on NHK Channel 1 News in 5 languages (Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese). Information is also broadcast on NHK Radio 1.

After arriving in Japan:

4. Prepare an earthquake kit. Although a fully fledged earthquake survival kit is prohibitively impractical to carry around there are some items that should be in your travel bag regardless of where you are in the world. Carry a first aid kit, a flashlight (a non-battery operated hand generator flashlight is a great tool), and some bottled water.

5. Take cover. If you are inside when an earthquake strikes take cover! Get under a table or desk to avoid falling debris, stand in a doorway (doorways are generally the strongest parts of a structure), or get down on the ground and cover your head with a pillow. Also, open any doors or windows to secure an exit. Door and window frames can be deformed by an earthquake making them unusable after the shaking subsides. Extinguish any flames and be careful of broken glass on the floor.

6. Get under something solid if you are outside like a ground floor entryway or head to the nearest park or open space.

7. Follow instructions. After an earthquake follow the directions of police or other authorities and evacuate to an emergency shelter (usually a school or community center). Food, water, and use of restroom facilities and a place to sleep will be provided to residents and travelers free of charge. An emergency shelter will also be among the first places an embassy will contact to verify the location and safety of citizens traveling in Japan. Make sure to identify yourself and your nationality to local police and evacuation center staff.

8. Head for high ground. If you are near the coast head for high ground! Bilingual “Tsunami Safety Zone” or “Tsunami Evacuation Route” signs are posted along the coast to direct visitors and residents to safety areas. Once the tsunami danger has abated evacuate to an emergency shelter.

9. Notify friends and loved ones of your situation by using NTT’s 171 Emergency message system. Follow the directions on NTT’s English website (or use the directions here or here and leave a 30 second message from a landline phone at your emergency shelter or your hotel (if it is safe to return there). This voicemail message service only works for friends and family in Japan. One can leave a text message for friends and family overseas on NTT’s 171 online Disaster Emergency Message Board here.


For more information about earthquakes and earthquake safety in Japan check any of the resources listed below:

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