Coping with natural disasters – what to do

Although it is unlikely, there is always the possibility of a natural disaster while you are in Japan. Last year was notable for major typhoons, flooding, and earthquakes causing damage and disruption. Not every year will be like 2018, but understanding what to expect and what to do can be reassuring.

Reliable information

A good way to prepare is to start with reliable information. If you’re not familiar with living in a seismically active area, you may want to learn more about what to do in the event of an earthquake or other natural disaster. The JNTO has a helpful guide for visitors to Japan which is useful preparation for major events. It describes what to do, depending on your location.

There is also an English language disaster app “Safety Tips” that will send alerts to your phone when necessary for earthquakes, eruptions and typhoons. If you’re staying in a hotel, an alert may be sent through the phone or fire alarm systems to warn of an earthquake about to happen.

The Japan Meteorological Agency provides reliable information not just on weather, but also on earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. If an event is reported in the news media and you are concerned about how this might affect your planned trip, the JMA’s website is a good place to start. It has warnings when volcanoes are getting more active and ash forecasts when eruptions occur. This is useful if your trip includes skiing, mountain climbing or even just sightseeing in the vicinity of a volcano. JNTO also provides travel advisories for significant natural disasters such as the Kumamoto earthquakes in 2016, giving information on transport disruptions and closure of sightseeing spots.

What to do

Minor but noticeable tremors may occur while you are in Japan. While these may be unnerving if you haven’t experienced them before, they generally have little impact. There may be short-term transport delays while safety checks are made after stronger tremors.

Typhoon season is roughly from August through to October and its effects are felt more strongly in the southern part of Japan. If you are travelling at this time, it’s worth having some backup indoor sights planned, just in case the weather makes outdoor activities less practical. Plan on checking the weather forecast regularly and also make sure that any flights you may be taking haven’t been disrupted by the weather. Trains and buses may be delayed too, if the weather is particularly bad. In extreme events, you may need to rearrange your itinerary if rail lines or roads are closed.

While there is plenty of advance warning about an approaching typhoon, there is only a few seconds warning for earthquakes so it’s worth knowing what to do in advance. Protecting yourself from falling objects is important. If you’re inside take cover underneath a table or similar, and hold on to something stable. Don’t run outside during the shaking and, after the shaking has finished, follow instructions from hotel, shop or museum staff about whether to evacuate. Hotels provide torches in their rooms in case electricity is cut. If you’re outside, try to stay clear of glass or roofing tiles that may fall from buildings, or fallen electric power lines that may be live.

If there is a severe weather event, earthquake or eruption while you’re in Japan, it is worth checking what international news media is reporting, even if you haven’t been affected by it. Sometimes details in news reports are fairly general, referring to an event “south of Tokyo” or the reporting uses emotive language such as “Tokyo was jolted by a strong earthquake” to describe events. Social media can also have some alarmist reports. This may cause your family and friends to be unnecessarily concerned about you. If you see this happening, particularly in your home town media and the social media networks used by your friends and family, let them know that you’re safe.

Japanese news organisations that have English language websites include NHK, Yomiuri, Mainichi and Asahi Shimbun. These provide more detailed information than you’re likely to find in overseas news sources.

JNTO Latest News issues helpful travel advisories after major disasters such as earthquakes and floods. These give links to air, train and road information so you can check any disruptions to your travel plans, and other useful information for keeping up-to-date on the effects of the disaster. A recent example is this one for an earthquake in Hokkaido in February 2019.

Other preparations

Your country is likely to have an embassy and possibly consulates in Japan. Check the website of your country’s foreign affairs agency to find out where the embassy and consulates are located, and note the contact details. There may also be a service to register your travel plans, so that the embassy can contact you in case of an emergency, such as a natural disaster.

Travel insurance can cover costs arising from unforeseen delays and cancellations, lost and damaged luggage, medical expenses and various other items. Natural disasters can give rise to all of the above costs, so bear that in mind when you consider taking out travel insurance.

Note the details of your insurance policies and how to contact the insurer in an emergency. Familiarise yourself with what is covered and what is not, and the documentation needed to make a claim.

Finally, do not worry too much. The likelihood of a major natural disaster occurring during your trip is low, and the most severe effects will be confined to specific regions. Unless you are in the centre of the disaster area, the most likely impact is delayed or cancelled transportation, and having to make last minute changes to your travel plans.

Do you have any questions about what to do in case of disasters, and how to prepare yourself just in case? Please feel free to contact me.

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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.