Earthquakes in Japan are a common concern and while they are common, there are steps travellers can take to stay safe.
While they’re not something anyone wants to experience, especially when travelling abroad, natural disasters are always a possibility and something of which you should be mindful. For Japan, the natural disaster that typically comes to mind is earthquakes, as the country has an extensive history with them. Since earthquakes can happen at any time, it’s best to know ahead of time what to do in the off chance that you experience an earthquake in Japan.
Read on for information and advice on staying safe in the event of a Japan earthquake.
History of Earthquakes in Japan
To fully appreciate the likelihood of earthquakes in Japan, it’s best to take a quick look at the country’s history with the phenomenon.
Japan has an extensive history with earthquakes and is actually recorded as experiencing roughly 20 percent of all earthquakes above magnitude 6 on the planet. It’s estimated that the country experiences a tremor once every five minutes, resulting in around 2000 noteworthy earthquakes each year.
Looking back through Japan’s history, there are countless major earthquakes that have struck over the years. The earliest referenced one is from 416 in the Nara Prefecture, and there are detailed records of Japanese earthquakes from as far back as 1892. These seismic shocks have not relented over the centuries, either, with two earthquakes of magnitude 7 having already been recorded for Japan in 2021.
The largest earthquake in recent memory was the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake (often referred to as 3.11), which had a magnitude of 9.1, making it one of the top five strongest earthquakes in the world since records began. It was this earthquake and its subsequent tsunami that caused the tragic Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, with the earthquake estimated to have a death toll of almost 20,000 deaths.
Why Are There So Many Earthquakes in Japan?
Clearly, earthquakes are a frequent issue in Japan, but why is that? Earthquakes are the result of shifting tectonic plates that cause deep-seated stresses in the crust and upper mantle of the Earth.
Japan has the unfortunate honour of sitting on top of four overlapping continental plates: the Pacific, the Philippine, the Eurasian and the North American plate. As such, it’s far more likely to experience seismic activity than most places around the world, and is also home to a generous number of volcanoes and hot springs. These frequent eruptions are also why Japan experiences tsunamis, as they are caused by earthquakes occurring along its extensive coast.
Tips for Staying Safe During an Earthquake
Should you experience an earthquake while travelling in Japan there are a whole host of things you can do to try to stay safe and reduce your risk of harm. Some are tips for things you can do in advance to ensure you’re prepared, while others relate to what to do during the emergency to minimize your risk. They include:
- Download an earthquake early warning app for your smartphone, like the Safety Tips app provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). Those with a Japanese phone number will also receive emergency notifications that way.
- During an earthquake, it’s important to Drop, Cover and Hold. Drop down low for stability and reduce your risk of falling; Cover your head from falling items; and hold onto something to keep yourself in place.
- If you are inside, do not go outside as there may be falling debris. If already outside, stand clear from buildings, trees, and utility wires. Never use elevators during or after an earthquake.
- If you’re around other people or in public, such as public transportation, follow the example of locals and authorities, as they will have more experience with what to do.
- When near the coast after a large earthquake, immediately find higher ground and remain there until you have been notified that there is no tsunami risk.
Information on Natural Disasters in Japan
Despite these warnings, it’s important to understand that most earthquakes in Japan are quite minor and can even happen without you noticing. Japan has also had plenty of experience with this phenomenon, so most modern buildings there have been designed to be resistant to earthquakes and their early-warning systems are state-of-the-art. So don’t let a fear of being caught in one stop you from visiting Japan.
That said, it’s always smart when travelling anywhere to know where to get information for natural disasters and what to do in an emergency.
The JNTO has a useful online tool that provides tourists with advice based on their circumstances depending on what kind of emergency you’re experiencing, including earthquakes. It also features some useful Japanese phrases to help with communication in an emergency.