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Earthquake 101 in Japan

Japan Living Guide


First published: January 18, 2011
Updated: March 11, 2011
Updated: August 2, 2011
Updated: January 17, 2012

* This article will be updated over the period of time.YokosoNews always welcome you to revise this page for better understanding.

What you should know from the experience during Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995

At 5:46:52 am on January 17, 1995, a strong shake hit the center of Kobe area and caused devastated destruction to the modern city of Japan.

At 2:46:18 pm on March 11, 2011, a strong shake and tsunami hit the vast area of North Japan and led to the catastrophic nuclear disaster.

Japan is known to be an eqrthquake nation. However, we've learned to survive and overcome the curcumstances.

Learn what you need to prepare in case of emergency. These knowledge and experience could be useful not only to the people in Japan, but also to the people all over the world.



The encounters to the real big earthquakes

At 5:47am on January 17, 1995 in Yokkaichi, Mie, Japan, I was waken up by a moderate amount of shake. At 7am, I woke up and turned on the TV, and saw a shocking images of buildings and highways torn down in Kobe area.

A couple weeks later, a couple students were temporarily transferred to my middle school because they lost their houses and moved in to their relatives.

At 2:46pm on March 11, 2011, I was working on an article for YokosoNews. Then a small but long-lasting shake hit Yokkaichi, Mie Japan. When I turned the TV, NHK was giving out the tsunami warning.

We immediately started the 1 month long emergency live cast, hoping to help as much English speakers in Japan by providing the accurate and immediate information about the earthquake.

Japan is the beautiful country with culture, nature and food. It's partly because Japan is the country of earthquakes. Little by little, we've learned to live with earthquake.

This is what you need to know to get ready for the major earthquake in Japan & modern cities.



Before Earthquake

What you must know BEFORE

Human beings are not perfect. You sometime forget. But this is one thing that you MUST prepare.


  • Know your neaby school, parks or community buildings in your neighborhood (Evaculation center, ひなんばしょ or 避難場所) and the one near your workplace.
  • Remember that you must relax, relax, relax, relax, relax, calm down and be patient in case of this disaster


This is the only thing you must know - where to evaculate.

If you live in a city, there must be designated evacuation area within 1km radius of your home or workplace.

Even if you are just traveling in Japan, just remember to go to neaby community buildings or park to evacuate. Japanese people will assist you even you cannot speak Japanaese.

What you should prepare BEFORE

In the major city, it may take up to 7 to 30 days to restore major inforstructure such as electrocity, water and gas. The agencies recommend people to prepare at least 7 days worth of food and drinks to prepare.

But it's very hard to prepare for 7 days. So, Katz recommends to start accumulating 3-days worth of food and water first. Once you got used to stock for 3-day, then move on to 7-days.


  • Food (minimum for 3 days)
  • Drinking Water (minimum for 3 days)
  • Medicine (minimum for 3 days)


Easiest food stock for disaster preparation is Carolie Mate (カロリーメイト). It lasts for half a year. Buy 3 boxes per day per person.

Don't forget to eat them and buy new one before it goes bad. A good reminder that you will have to prepare for disaster regularly.

For drinking water, try to stock for 1 bottle per person per day.




What you better prepare BEFORE

Once you are ready for above, the next step to prepare the following


  • Arrange the meeting spot with your friends (*1)
  • Learn the routes that you can WALK from your workplace or school to home or friends'. (*2)
  • Permanent marker and a piece of paper
  • 7 days worth of food and drinks
  • Flashlight
  • Get a radio
  • Portable pocket warmer (カイロ) in winter
  • Layers of clothes
  • Hand-cart (to carry heavy object on foot)


*1) In the case of major disaster, you will lose all means of communications. Try to arrange with your friends what to do.

*2) If you encounter the earthquake at work in the city, (especially in Tokyo), there are the chance that you will be stuck stall on the street for hours.

Radio will be the sifficient resources of information. During Greater Hanshin Earthquake, they've set up temporarily English radio station.



Arrange the means of communication with your family members and friends in case of disaster


Many of you came to Japan without family or relatives. Your friends could be the great help in case of emergency. It's the best to take this moment to talk with your friends the following


  • Arrange the meeting spot and dates (e.g., 7 days after the disaster and etc)
  • Tell each other that you will update your status on Google Person Finder (when Google activates it).
  • Tell each other that you will use Facebook Disaster Message Board (when Facebook activate it)
  • Tell each other that you will update your status on Facebook or Twitter profile when you're safe
  • In case of emergency, YokosoNews may start the emergency live cast. Tell your friends that YokosoNews will try to provide acurate and wanted information of Japan via Twitter, Facebook, and emergency live cast at YokosoNews.tv
  • Ask them to use "171"  disaster voicemail service (Saigai Dengon Dial, さいがいでんごんダイヤル, or 災害伝言ダイヤル) by NTT, online version (www.web171.jp)
  • Exchange the contacts of someone in your home country with your friends in Japan
  • Assign your friends (especially Japanes speaking friends) as the emergency contacts
  • Tell your family or friend which services you will use to confirm your survival (e.g., 171 Voicemail service, mobile phone voicemail service, and/or Internet services).
  • Try to carry your student ID, employee's ID or business cards, so that if you're unable to speak, someone else can identify you and try to help you to lead the right place.


How to use Saigai Dengon Dial (災害伝言ダイヤル)

The disaster voicemail service (Saigai Dengon Dial, さいがいでんごんダイヤル or 災害伝言ダイヤル) is emergency service provided by NTT West & East (the dominant Japanese telecommunication company).

If you friend or family left the voicemail, you will be able to hear their 30 seconds voicemail, and exchange the information. NTT keeps the voicemail upto 48 hours.

Telephone lines tend to be jammed during the disaster. It'll be harder to connect. NTT saves the voicemail messages onto the servers located outside the disaster area. Therefore, people will be able to keep in touch.

But you have  to make sure you tell each other that you will use "171" in case of natural disaster.

If you have multiple house phone or cell phone numbers, make sure to discuss with your friends which number to use.

You can only dial 171 from Japan.


Landline version: Download the PDF guide

This is the procedure of Saigain Dengon Dial, translated from NTT East 171 website.

The yellow box is the translation of automated message. You may have to guess. But this is one of the very useful communications that you may want to consider.

Download a PDF version & print it out before too late. You won't have the Internet connection when you really need this guide!


# Steps Record Playback Fee
1 Dial Dial 171 FREE
2 Message GUIDE: "This is Saigai Dengon Dial Center. If you want to record a voicemail, press 1. If you want to play back, press 2. If you want to record a voicemail with PIN, press 3. If you want to play back PIN-protected voicemail, press 4."
Select to record or play. You can also set PIN number to protect your message No PIN With PIN  No PIN With PIN
Press 1
Press 3 Press 2   Press 4
GUIDE: "Please Enter 4 digit PIN" GUIDE: "Please Enter 4 digit PIN"
GUIDE: "If you want to record a voicemail, please dial phone number. If you want to playback, please dial the phone number of your contact".
Dial the phone number with the area code (0XX - XXX - XXXX)
  Connecting to the server Connect Check if a voicemail exists
 4 Record or playback the message GUIDE: "We will record (or playback) the voicemail of 0XXXXXX (with PIN XXXX). If you are using pulse phone, please hold. If you are using touch tone (push button), press 1#. Paid
Touch Tone Pulse Touch Tone Pulse
Press 1# Hold Press 1# Hold
GUIDE: We'll start recording after the beep. Please finish within 30 seconds GUIDE: We'll start recording after the beep. Please finish within 30 seconds. Once finish recording, press 9#. GUIDE: We'll playback the newer voicemail first. Press 8# to go back. Press 9# to proceed. GUIDE: We'll playback from the newer voicemails.
Record a voicemail Playback a voicemail(s)
  Press 9# GUIDE: We have played all of existing voicemails of the designated number. You can press 3#, to record new voicemail. GUIDE: We played all of existing voicemails.
  GUIDE: We'll playback the recorded message. Press 8# if you want to cancel and re-record. If you press 3, follow the recording procedure (on left)
  Check the recording Or proceed to the end.
GUIDE: Your message has been saved. GUIDE: We played all of existing voicemails.
5  End Finish (Hang-up)

Web171 - Online version

NTT West & East provide online version. We'll add the English instruction later.



"171" services only becomes available in case of natural disaster. First, the people who are located within the disaster zone can leave a message. Then the people, who are calling outside, will be able to leave a voicemail after the certain period of time (depends on how much volume)


Mobile Phone

In addition, cell phone carriers usually provide their own voicemail service, or online services such as Google, Facebook or Twitter may be useful tool

  • Cell Phone Carriers
    • NTT Docomo Saigai Dengon Dial (Voicemail Service)
      • Web (Only to check the voicemail. Available only during the disaster)
      • Phone (Available only during the disaster from i-Mode menu)
    • AU Saigai Dengon Dial
      • Web (Only to check the voicemail. Available only during the disaster)
      • Phone (Available only during the disaster from au One Portal)
      • Android App
    • Softbank Saigai Dengon Dial (Voicemail Service)
      • Web (Only to check the voicemail. Available only during the disaster)
      • From Phone (Available only during the disaster from Yahop! Ktai or My Softbank menu)
      • iPhone App (You need an Apple ID in Japan)
      • Android App
    • E Mobile
      • Web (Only to check the voicemail. Available only during the disaster)
      • From Phone (Available only during the disaster)
    • Willcom
      • Web (Only to check the voicemail. Available only during the disaster)
      • From Phone (Available only during the disaster)

Online Services

  • Online Services
    • Google Person's Finder
    • Twitter
    • Facebook
    • Skype

During earthquake

What to expect during earthquake



When earthquake hits the ground. The best advice is to calm down.

If you are inside the building

  • Protect your head
  • Lower your body
  • Try to climb under the table
  • Try to stay away from large furniture, which may fall on you.


In addition, If you are outside

  • Stay away from tall building (rubble or window glasses may fall onto you). DO NOT try to get close to any building.


If you are at home

  • TOILET: If you can move, fill water in your bathtub all the time, or buy enough portable toiletory products (*1)
  • DOORS: If you can move, go open a door or a window that you can go out. Earthquake may bend the door and you won't be able to get out from your home.


*1) One critical concern is the bathroom use. You won't be able to flash your body waste. Once you kept water on the bathtub, you can use those water for flashing. But you may only want to flash once every other times.

To be honest, if you encounter major earthquake, you won't be able to do anything no matter how strong you are. All you need to think during the shake is to stay calm.



After Earthquake

Immediate actions


This is the check-list after the eathquake


  • Check if building is in good standing, or hear some unusual noise
  • Check if you smell the gas
  • Check if there is any fire
  • Check if there is Tsunami


If you see any sign, (especially the smell of gas) evacuate immediately. If you see the fire, check the building structure and smell of gas first to decide whether you want to try to cease the fire.

Staying home - First 3 days

If your house is safe, or agency declars that your house is safe, you should stay your house to make a room for who really lost the place to sleep.


  • If water is running, try to fill the bath tub with water for toilet use ASAP.
  • Try to communicate with your family and neighbor
  • Listen to battery-operated radio
  • Visit nearby community building to gather information
  • Don't trust negative rumors at first
  • Forget about work, concentrate on cleaning up the room until everything is settled
  • Try to calm down


Evacuation - First 3 days

If you lost your house, go to nearby school or community buildings.

    • If you need to evaculate away from home, LEAVE A NOTE on the door of your house or the entrance of the apartment.
    • If your friends or family visited your house, they'll know you're safe.
    • When you leave a note, you may want to write down where you are going, or tell them to call 171.
    • You can arrange the place to hide the note
    • Use permanent marker, or the letters may disappear by rain and sunlight
  • Bring only a few clothes but 3-4 changes of underwear.
  • There will be a lot of waiting - bathroom, food, water and etc. Relax and be patient. Try to calm down


First 4-7 days

After the first 7 days, cell phone should restore its services. YokosoNews will be able to start assisting. The first 7 days may be the most difficulty and lonely moment.


  • Go to the nearby community center to volunteer some work
  • Try to contact your schools and workplace to check-in
  • Be careful with bad rumors. Everybody will confused by false information. Get ready for it.


After 7 days

After 7 days, you should get the Internet connection back in Japan. YokosoNews will try to bring the disaster information to the locals as much as possible in case of natural disaster.


Something that you may want to know

Priority of lives: Respect rescue workers and volunteers

Make sure to prepare mentally how to relax, be patient and not to panic.

Everything will move slow.

In case of major emergency, the rescue workers will priotize the injury from serious to light. If you just broke your bone, and have no life threatening risk, you may not be treated right away.

The rescue workers will try to rescue the ones who have a chance to live. Even if your loved one was stuck under rubble, if there is no sign of life, the rescue workers will leave you alone. You must respect the decision(s) of rescue workers, volunteers and neighbors.

Know your funeral rituals

If the disaster was occured during summer, the government may have to conducr cremation before the body start decomposing.

Great Hanshin Earthquake was happened in winter. They were able to keep the bodies and carry them to the crematory outside Kobe. But the city officials were debating if they should conduct the cremation on the ground of elementary school.

If you happened to believe in non-Budhist religion, and saw bodies at the evaculation sites. Please try to teach Japanese volunteer how to take care the ritual according to your religion.



* This page will be updated over the period of the time for bettern understanding.

* Please leave us a comment, and suggestions.

Katz Ueno
As the Editor-in-chief & Producer of YokosoNews, Katz wants to show Japan to the rest of the world. Read more »