What to Do if an Earthquake Occurs During Your Trip to Japan? Essential Disaster Preparedness Knowledge to Know

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You’ll often hear of natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, typhoons and heavy rains in Japan. Earthquakes are particularly frequent, with as many as 2,424 tremors recorded in 2021 alone, including minor ones.
As more people see Japan in their future travels, it’s good to note basic actions to take in the small chance of the worst-case scenario to ensure your trip is as safe as possible.
Below are some tips to the minimum required knowledge used for disaster prevention.
Avoid getting caught off guard by imagining the slim chance and strategies to keep calm in the case of a disaster or emergency.

Table of Contents

Essential Earthquake Preparedness Knowledge

Here’s a handy overview of crucial tips in the slim chance you encounter an earthquake during your travels.
If the idea is weighing on your mind, make sure to bookmark this page for easy reference in the off chance of an emergency.

The science of earthquakes and potential effects

Protect yourself first and foremost with a real understanding of what to expect from an earthquake.
The Earth's crust consists of plates and an earthquake is the result of their shifting.
With larger earthquakes fallout can include collapsed houses and buildings, but even secondary disasters afterwards like landslides and tsunami waves.
Remember, large-scale earthquakes repeat themselves in longer cycles, causing seismic waves that are slower and larger.

Earthquakes caused by the shifting of tectonic plates
Earthquakes caused by the shifting of tectonic plates

Aftershocks: Caution Needed Even After the Main Quake

The initial earthquake is called the main shock, and the following tremors are aftershocks.
Aftershocks don't continuously follow the main shock; they occur intermittently.
Moreover, aftershocks can be as strong as the main shock, meaning you still need to stay alert.
Typically, aftershocks are frequent right after the main shock and decrease over time.
However, after major earthquakes, aftershocks can continue for months or even years.
Be sure not to let your guard down even if a main shock has already passed.

Be aware as aftershocks can cause tremendous tremors, too
Be aware as aftershocks can cause tremendous tremors, too

Actions to Take During an Earthquake

Wherever you are, move quickly to a place safe from falling objects like signs, glass, or roof tiles during an earthquake. Once safe, protect your head and keep low until the shaking stops. If you're in a hotel or inn, protect your head with pillows or futons to avoid injury from broken windows or light fixtures. Hiding under a table to protect your head is also effective. In the city, move away from buildings that may collapse or drop debris, and use your bag to shield your head. Be cautious of falling signs. If you're in a bathroom or restroom, leave as soon as possible to a safer location. Rushing to emergency exits can lead to crowd stampedes and injury, so be sure to stay calm and act accordingly.

In a High-Rise Building
Stay in common areas such as elevator halls and wait for the shaking to stop.
If Inside an Elevator
Press all the floor buttons and exit at the first possible stop.
If trapped, use the intercom to call for help.
In Shopping Centers and Department Stores
Be cautious of scattered products and broken showcases.
Move to a staircase landing or near a pillar and wait for the shaking to subside.
In Theaters or Stadiums
Rushing to emergency exits or stairs can be dangerous.
Protect your head from falling objects and follow the announcements or staff instructions for evacuation.
On City Streets
Be aware of falling objects and collapsing buildings.
Move to a broad and safe place, like a park.
If no park is nearby, seek refuge in a relatively new reinforced concrete building.
In Underground Areas
In case of a power outage and panic, there’s a risk of crowds rushing to emergency exits. Initially, wait for the shaking to stop.
On Trains or Buses
Trains and buses will stop urgently if strong tremors are detected.
Stay in place, protecting your head, until the shaking stops.
Protect your head while waiting for the tremors to stop in a safe place
Protect your head while waiting for the tremors to stop in a safe place

What to Do Once the Shaking Stops

Here are steps to take once the earthquake subsides.
Protect your feet against the probably of scattered glass by avoiding walking barefoot or in slippers. Wear shoes to protect your feet. Prepare for the possibility of aftershocks by keeping doors open and ensuring an escape route.
Avoid turning on electrical switches due to the risk of fire or explosions; use your smartphone or emergency lights for illumination.
Refrain from using fire, as there might be gas leaks.
If you're in a facility and hear fire alarms, evacuate immediately.
Avoid using elevators as they may stop and trap you inside. Follow instructions from facility staff for evacuation.

Check the location of emergency lights in your accommodation for emergencies.
Check the location of emergency lights in your accommodation for emergencies.

Evacuate Promptly if Near the Sea or River

Stay alert for possible after effects after a large earthquake, especially tsunami waves.
If you're near the sea, move quickly to higher ground or a tall building once the shaking stops.
Also, be cautious if you're by a river. Tsunamis can surge upstream from the river mouth.
Evacuate perpendicular to the river's flow direction.

Evacuate Immediately if You're Near the Sea
Evacuate Immediately if You're Near the Sea

Where to Go to Ensure Safety?

After the shaking, head to a nearby evacuation area.
Evacuation areas are locations designated to escape from disaster-related dangers.
Evacuation shelters are different; they're for people who can't return home and offer communal living.
Evacuation areas are usually outdoors, except during heavy rain, like large parks, green spaces, or school grounds.
Assess the damage and whether returning home is feasible at the evacuation area, and plan your next steps.

Know the difference between evacuation areas and shelters
Know the difference between evacuation areas and shelters

Tsunami Risks and Evacuation Precautions

After an earthquake, it’s crucial to watch for any potential tsunami that may occur as a result. Protect yourself from dangerous possibilities by understanding how tsunami waves work.
Tsunamis occur when the sea bottom moves due to an earthquake, pushing up the water.
Tsunamis can approach like a wall with the entire sea forming a mass, while a single wave can stretch for hundreds of kilometers.
Large tsunami can easily engulf houses and cars or even break through levees.
The waves of a tsunami becomes higher as it approaches the shore, so remember to stay alert even if you don’t seen a high wave in the distance.
What makes tsunamis particularly dangerous is not just their destructive power but also their speed.
Tsunami waves move slower at shallower water depths, but even at a depth of 10 meters, it can still travel at about 35 km/h.
Be sure to remember that you cannot outrun a tsunami on foot, and even if you flee by car you run the risk of getting caught in traffic.
Rather than trying to flee far as fast as possible, it’s best to prioritize escaping to higher ground.
As a rule of thumb, remember that if you can see a tsunami that it's usually too late to escape. Once the shaking stops, prioritizing getting to a higher place immediately.
Remember, tsunamis can occur even after small earthquakes and can happen repeatedly, so always stay alert.

Evacuate immediately and aim for high ground
Evacuate immediately and aim for high ground

Beware of Landslides as Well as Tsunamis

After an earthquake there are more potential dangers beside a tsunami; landslides are also a real concern. Landslides include debris flows, landslides, and rockfalls. A debris flow is when soil and rocks mixed with water flow downwards rapidly, often caused by earthquakes or heavy rain. They are powerful and fast, leading to significant damage. A landslide occurs when rain or melting snow seeps into slopes, causing large areas to slide down. The ground moves in large chunks, potentially carrying houses along. They usually move so slowly they're invisible to the eye, often taking years, but earthquakes can suddenly trigger them. A rockfall is when steep slopes collapse suddenly, more a collapse than a flow. Rain infiltration can cause them, but earthquakes can trigger them abruptly too. After an earthquake, quickly make your way to safe place to protect yourself from landslides. If a debris flow or rockfall happens nearby, move away from mountains and cliffs immediately. For debris flows, escaping perpendicular to the flow direction is crucial. In any case, avoid approaching mountains or cliffs after an earthquake.

Watch out for landslides after major earthquakes
Watch out for landslides after major earthquakes

Actions to Take During Typhoons and Heavy Rains

Just like earthquakes, be cautious of disasters caused by typhoons and heavy rains. Check the weather before traveling, and if there's a possibility of typhoons or heavy rains, avoid forcing any unnecessary travel. If a typhoon or heavy rain occurs at your destination, check evacuation information via apps or news. Refer to the following table for types of evacuation information. As an added tip, bookmark this information for quick access in emergencies.

Emergency Safety Measures(Level 5 Alert)
When a disaster has already occurred or is imminent.
If it's not safe to move to an evacuation spot, move to the upper floors of a sturdy building or hotel nearby.
Evacuation Orders(Level 4 Alert)
High likelihood of disaster.
Begin evacuation immediately.
Evacuation for the Elderly, etc.(Level 3 Alert)
Potential for disaster.
Elderly people who take time to evacuate should start evacuating.
Others should refrain from going out.

If you're in a basement or semi-basement, there's a high risk of flooding. Check evacuation information and evacuate immediately to a place or building above a third floor if you sense imminent danger. Be sure to act early and not to wait for a flood to move.

Be cautious of typhoons and heavy rains, not just earthquakes.
Be cautious of typhoons and heavy rains, not just earthquakes.

Handy Disaster Prevention Tips for Emergencies

Here are some useful tips to know if a disaster occurs during your travels.
These are good to know for those who want to prepare for emergencies.

1. Handkerchiefs and Scarves for Various Uses

Large handkerchiefs, scarves, or shawls can be used as masks for infection and dust prevention.
They can also serve as bandages, sunshades, or blankets, so include them in your travel luggage.

Keep handkerchiefs, scarves and shawls in your travel bags for a number of different uses
Keep handkerchiefs, scarves and shawls in your travel bags for a number of different uses

2. A raincoat that can be used not only for rain but also for protection against the cold.

A raincoat can prove both water and wind resistant, making them crucial in protecting against rain and cold.
They can help keep your body clean as well so remember that a raincoat is a good item to keep in your bag.

Foldable raincoats are convenient for travel and don't take up much space.
Foldable raincoats are convenient for travel and don't take up much space.

3. Trash Bags and Plastic Bags: Useful Items in Disasters

Large trash bags can be used to carry water, converted into raincoats, or used as emergency toilets. Plastic bags can substitute for gloves. When treating injuries, touching wounds with bare hands increases the risk of infection, so use plastic bags as gloves for first aid.

Like raincoats, these don't take up much space so be sure to keep some in your backpack.
Like raincoats, these don't take up much space so be sure to keep some in your backpack.

4. Creating a Makeshift Lantern with a Flashlight and Water Bottle

In case you're trapped in your accommodation during a power outage, a flashlight alone may not light up the entire room. Place the flashlight on the floor, pointing upward, and put a water-filled bottle on top of it. The light from the flashlight will reflect through the water in the bottle, illuminating the entire room.

Create a makeshift lantern with a water bottle and flashlight.
Create a makeshift lantern with a water bottle and flashlight.

5. Carry More Cash in Your Wallet

During travel, keep a good amount of cash in your wallet.
After a disaster, electronic devices like smartphones and payment readers may not work, making electronic payments impossible.
Consider the possibility of shops being unable to provide change, so carry plenty of coins.

Carry plenty of coins.
Carry plenty of coins.

Must-Install App for Emergencies: 'Safety Tips'

'Safety Tips' is an app supervised by the Japan Tourism Agency that notifies users of emergency earthquake alerts, tsunami information, along with other weather warnings and evacuation updates.
The app supports multiple languages, including Japanese, English, Korean, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai.
Considering the unexpected, install this app before traveling to Japan.

With multilingual support, install 'Safety Tips' on your smartphone before traveling.
With multilingual support, install 'Safety Tips' on your smartphone before traveling.

Useful Services and Social Media Accounts to Know

Bookmark and follow the services and social media accounts below.
Although they may not support multiple languages, they can be useful with the help of others around you.

'Disaster Message Dial' for Checking Safety Information

When a disaster occurs, communications in the affected areas tends to go up, making it difficult to connect calls and access the internet.
In these situations be sure to remember 'Disaster Message Dial.'
This service allows you to record and play back safety information via voice messages to specific phone numbers, only available during disasters.

Disaster Message Board' for Registering and Checking Safety Information

Like the Disaster Message Dial, the 'Disaster Message Board' is a service for checking safety, available only during major disasters.
You can register your safety information on the Disaster Message Board, and friends and family can check it.
Each smartphone carrier provides this service, so be aware of the service available through your carrier.

Free Public Wi-Fi '00000JAPAN' Available During Disasters

'00000JAPAN' is a public Wi-Fi service made freely available during disasters.
After a disaster, increased communications makes it difficult to connect to the internet, making it hard to contact for safety confirmation or to get disaster-related information.
This service can be invaluable at such times.

Websites and Social Media Accounts for Accurate Disaster Information

In the aftermath of a disaster, it's not uncommon for unsettling and inaccurate information to spread.
During such times, check the following websites and social media accounts.
We recommend bookmarking and following them in advance.

Frequently Asked Questions About Disasters in Japan


What should you be careful of when an earthquake occurs?


Protect your head and wait in a safe place until the shaking stops.


Where should you go after the earthquake stops?


Move to a nearby evacuation area. If a tsunami occurs, it's crucial to go to high places like hills.


Does shaking continue with aftershocks after an earthquake?


Aftershocks do not continue incessantly but occur intermittently.


Is the seismic resistance of high-rise buildings okay?


Depending on the structure, such as seismic or isolation features, high-rise buildings may feel stronger shaking during earthquakes.


With this you have the basics of what to know and what to do during the most likely natural disasters in Japan.
Japan is an earthquake-prone nation, making it all the more important to understand more about them. Be prepared even in the slimmest of chances by bookmarking this page and installing the 'Safety Tips' app.