What’s going on?!
Some disasters, such as earthquakes, strike suddenly and without warning. They may be followed by tsunami or landslide warnings. Others, such as typhoons, are reasonably predictable, and you can prepare for them ahead of time. In either case, the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) has an excellent webpage with weather, climate, and earthquake information that includes warnings and advisories.
Consider bookmarking the page for future reference, either to plan for a typhoon or to find out if there are tsunami warnings after an earthquake.
In addition to bookmarking the JMA website, you should look into getting an earthquake warning app such as Yurekuru (Android, iOS), QuakeFeed (iOS), or Earthquake Alert! (Android). The Japanese-only Disaster Information Shelter Guide app (防災情報 全国避難所ガイド, iOS) can help you find an evacuation point (more on that below).
Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance
For most foreigners, dealing with natural disasters in a Japanese context is entirely new territory. To help out, the Miyazaki International Foundation (MIF) has prepared an excellent PDF document that explains:
- how to prepare for an emergency situation,
- what to do during the event itself, and
- what steps to take following the disaster.
We provide a copy of the English version here, but you can also find Japanese, Korean, and Tagalog versions of the PDF. Print a copy and keep it in your emergency bag for future reference.
In addition, CLAIR (Council of Local Authorities for International Relations) has a Multilingual living Information page that includes emergency and disaster information. CLAIR’s information is a bit more technical, but may be of interest to you. We’ve merged the various pages into one document here.
Be cool, Johnny
As always in an emergency situation, the adrenaline and your instincts are likely to contribute to you making small (or large) mistakes. You don’t want to sprint outside during an earthquake only to be knocked out by a roof tile to the head, or only to trample through broken glass and not be able to walk for three weeks.
Remember to stay calm and to think ahead. This is not a time for heroics or rash decisions, so don’t put yourself in danger.
Take a few breaths to find your calm, and think before you act. For example, if you’re leaving your house, ask yourself simple questions such as, “Did I turn off the gas? Are the faucets closed? Did I grab my emergency bag? Am I wearing shoes? How are my neighbours doing?” You might even want to staple a departure checklist to your emergency bag ahead of time.
Likewise, pay attention to your surroundings. Are there sirens or announcements on loudspeakers, the TV, or the radio? Can you understand them? Don’t forget to talk to your neighbours, as they can help you understand any announcements, and you can help them stay safe too.
WHERE DO I GO?
Following a natural disaster, your area may be given the order to evacuate. Similarly, you, your neighbours, or the authorities might deem your house to be unsafe for a variety of reasons. In these situations, you will move to an evacuation shelter.
As always, make certain to plan ahead. Visit the local evacuation sites near your home, workplace, and hobbies BEFORE you need to use them in an emergency. This will help you know where to go and how best to get there should you need to do so when there is rubble in the street, the way is blocked by fires or floods, or there is precious little time to get to high ground during a tsunami alert.
Stay in touch
If you’re a JET Programme participant, you will be contacted by your Block Leader through the Block System. This is a quick and effective way to find out if everyone is accounted for and okay. Make sure to check your emails if you can and to reply in a timely manner.
Your schools or Board of Education may also have a phone-chain set up, and you will likely be called or otherwise contacted by an English-speaking staff member right after a natural disaster. Don’t hesitate to ask your supervisor or coworkers about this ahead of time in order to find out any particular details or to confirm that your phone number is correct.
Likewise, when you have a minute, send a quick email, Facebook update, Tweet, Vibe, SMS, etc. to your family and friends back home to let them know how you’re doing. Ask them to spread the news among each other. The information that they will receive abroad about any natural disaster in Japan will be general in nature and will likely paint a dire picture. Keep in mind as well that the language and information barrier will be far greater for them than it is for you.
Stay safe, put on your smiles, and help each other out!