Earthquakes & Japan Travel Safety Tips

Aug 10th, 2009 | By | Category: Travel

Japan has more earthquake activity than almost any place in the world.  While we don’t have noticeable earthquakes everyday, they are a common occurrence – one that gets your attention but doesn’t hold it for long unless unless it is longer or stronger than “usual”.  The 6.9 magnitude earthquake that was felt in Tokyo last night was an attention getter!

The hanging lamps were swaying quite violently and everything was rattling in our twelfth floor Chiba, Japan apartment for at least a minute while we waited, and wondered, when the shaking would stop.    You can read a quote from both me and Honor Dargan, guest contributor on The Nihon Sun and author of Tokyotopia on Galavanting.

What can visitors do to prepare for an earthquake when visiting Japan?  Not a lot I’m afraid, but some tips for staying safe include:

  1. Locate the emergency exits closest to you at your hotel.
  2. Prop open your hotel room door in case the building buckles – you may not be able to open it otherwise.
  3. Crouch under a sturdy table or desk, stand under a doorframe or head for the bathroom – these locations are usually the most structurally sound and offer you the most protection.
  4. Don’t panic or rush out of doors unless absolutely necessary – if you do need to evacuate do so calmly on foot taking only what you need.
  5. If you are out of doors, look for open spaces and parks that offer protection from debris that may fall off buildings and hillsides.

If you happen to be in a tall building when an earthquake strikes you will likely feel the intensity of the quake more than someone on the ground.  Modern buildings in Japan are built on foundations that are meant to withstand earthquakes but they tend to sway more the higher you are!

The chance of you experiencing and earthquake in Japan is pretty good, the chance of it being large enough to cause damage or take lives is much less likely.  In fact you may not even notice an earthquake if you are walking or otherwise moving about.

Earthquake Simulations in Japan

The Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center has some video simulations of earthquakes or if you are in Tokyo you can visit the Tokyo Northern Disaster Research Center to experience an earthquake simulator free of charge.  The simulations, like the one in the video above, will allow you to experience the exact magnitude and duration of the the 1923 Kanto Earthquake and the 1995 Kobe Earthquake.

The first hand account of the 1923 Kanto Earthquake as experienced on the slopes of Mt. Fuji is also fascinating reading.

(Hat tip to Tokyotopia on Twitter for the Tokyo Northern Disaster Research Center link)

Video Credit: YouTube, Earthquake simulation

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  1. These are some good tips. For anyone living in the country, it’s also a good idea to have an “emergency kit” handy by the door. These usually consist of some snacks, bottles of water, bandaids, hygiene products, and (in some cases) a change of underwear. If a big earthquake forces the Mrs. and I out the door, we can quickly grab the bag and make our escape with some necessities :)

  2. when i lived in japan, i was so freaked out the first time i experienced an earthquake! great tips.

  3. Two big earthquakes really shook me up, too! Ikebukuro Safety Center offers similar safety programs to Tokyo residents both in Japanese and in English. They have English video and some staff speak English. I recommend anyone new to Tokyo to make an appointment and take a 1 1/2 hours session to go over earthquake simulation, smoke and fire simulation.

    Please call or fax to make an appointment. Also, please be sure to ask for English films.
    TEL 03-3590-6565
    4th floor of Ikebukuro Firestation
    2-37-8 Nishi Ikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo
    Japanese Web URL
    Access: Across Metropolitan Hotel, a few minutes from JR Ikebukuro South Exit)
    English information about earthquake

  4. Thanks for this information @tokyofoodcast. I think your advice is particularly good for those who have children and want then to understand what earthquakes are and how they should react in case of one. As an adult the first earthquake I experienced was a bit of a shock and i can only imagine what a child might think in a similar situation…

  5. @Jason - good tip about having an emergency kit of sorts ready to go. I have to admit that this is something that I haven’t prepared and fingers crossed I won’t even wish I did…although this morning made me wonder. Two biggish earthquakes in a week is not an encouraging thing ?

  6. Here are some more tips:

    1. Never list your home address on the luggage tag. If on business, put the company’s address on the tag; if visiting friends you can list their address. Use covered luggage tags as well.

    2. Stay with your luggage until the luggage is checked. If you must put your bag down, keep one foot on the handle.

    3. Carry important papers with you; NEVER check anything that you simply cannot afford to lose. Photocopy your passport, driver’s license and credit cards.

    4. Bring a small flashlight. You never know when you’ll suddenly be “in the dark” and find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings. At night, keep your flashlight by your bed.

  7. […] usually the most structurally sound and offer you the most protection. Visit this article from the Nihon Sun for more Earthquake safety […]

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