To cope with communications difficulties in the event of an earthquake or other disaster, the authorities have designed a message bank where you can leave a message, or access messages left for you to help confirm the location and safety of affected people.
NTT made a Disaster Message Dial 171 Service to be utilized from NTT public phones in such circumstances. This touch-tone system offers only Japanese guidance, but this guide should help you use it. Keep the cheat sheet at the end of this section near your phone at home to assist you, just in case!
How to Use the Disaster Emergency Message System
To Leave a Message 171+1+ (052) XXX-XXXX
- Dial 171
- 2. Press 1, then the pound sign (1#)
- Dial your own number, or another number where you would like to leave a message, in full (NOT cellular phone or IP phone)
- Press 1, then the pound sign (1#)
- Leave a message after the beep
- Press 9, then the pound sign (9#) to listen to your recorded message
- Press 8, then the pound sign to re-record
- Hang up
To Listen to Messages (up to 10) 171+1+ (052) XXX-XXXX
- Dial 171
- Press 2, then the pound sign
- Press 2 and then dial your own number starting with the area code to hear messages left for you
- Press 2 and then dial the number starting with the area code of the person you are trying to contact
- Press 1, then the pound sign to listen to the message (1#)
- Press 8, then the pound sign to repeat (8#)
- Press 9, then the pound sign to hear the next message (9#)
- Press 3, then the pound sign to record additional messages (3#)
- Hang up
- Recording time is limited to 30 seconds
- Can be accessed using regular (landline) or public (NTT) telephones, not cellular or internet (ip) phones
- Not accessible from overseas.
For more information see the NTT Website for your region
Printable PDF Cheat Sheet
In order to ensure your ability to perform this task, Relo Japan, another part of The H&R Group, has provided this printable sheet, provided to their clients via their login site on www.ReloJapan.com. Print this sheet, and place it with your emergency kit, or next to your phone for reference if required.
Where is my Evacuation Area?
In the event of a serious disaster or emergency, you may be ordered to evacuate your home and gather with others in officially designated areas. From these areas, you may be asked to return to your home when it is deemed safe to do so, to shelter in place, or to move to a larger or more permanent location if things have gone seriously awry.
Common evacuation areas are large parks, public buildings, or open areas. The most common areas are schools, which are nearly always built on high, safe ground to serve this very purpose. The following procedure is accepted in Japan as standard for evacuation, depending on the level of damage and danger:
Temporary Evacuation Site
In the wake of a serious problem, you should take refuge at the nearest spacious place, and assess the situation. Temporary evacuation or assembly points may be another way to think of them, are usually designated by the local resident associations.
Open Evacuation Area
If your local assembly area is no improvement on your safety, or simply not reachable, you would move up to an open evacuation area, which is designated by your city, ward, town, or village office: depending on the size of your locality.
Evacuation shelters are places for evacuees to live temporarily when their homes become unlivable in a disaster. Elementary and junior high schools are most often designated as evacuation shelters.
What and where your nearest area is will be is determined by the local neighborhood association or the government, and you should seek that information from them to be certain you know what to do in the event of an emergency.
Additional Evacuation Area Resources
Central Tokyo Evacuation Areas and Shelters
Yokohama Evacuation Areas and Shelters
Nagoya Evacuation Areas and Shelters
Osaka Evacuation Areas and Shelters
Kobe Evacuation Areas and Shelters (JP only)
Hiroshima Evacuation Areas and Shelters
What to do Before an Earthquake
Japan is among the world’s most seismically active countries, which means that earthquakes are a relatively common occurrence. Small tremors are felt in some parts of the country nearly every day, and there have been several notably severe earthquakes in recent history, most recently The 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which claimed the lives of 15,891 people. While the damage was significant, it is important to note that damage and deaths from one of the largest earthquakes in human history were remarkably limited, and most were the result of the tsunami; not the shaking.
One of the most notable reasons for this result was the building and housing construction codes enacted after 1981 and progressively improved further in response to The Great Hanshin Earthquake which devastated the Kobe area in 1995, taking the lives of 6,434 people. The horror wrought by Japan’s experiences in Kobe put new energy toward improving building codes and procedures. All of which were fairly effective, significantly lessening the effects of the Tohoku quake.
It is important to be prepared in case of a natural disaster because if the worst happens it could be days before services are restored, and ensuring access to food, clean water, and sanitation will make the wait far more comfortable for you and your family.
Understand Building Standards
First, you should choose a home that conforms to the most recent building standards available. Building standards in Japan were overhauled in 1981, 2000, and 2006. The most sweeping of these changes were those enacted in 1981, and buildings that conform to them are called “shin-taishin buildings.”
Kyu-taishin Buildings – Substandard Structural Resistance
As of 1981, kyu-taishin buildings are no longer permissible to build, but they are still available to rent. You can still find kyu-taishin apartments all over Japan, and while the real estate agent is required to warn you that it does not meet standards, you can choose to live in one anyway. We do not recommend them to our clients, but if you are willing to sacrifice safety for a larger or cheaper apartment this is one way to do it.
During the 1995 Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake only 0.3% of buildings built to post-1981 shin-taishin standards suffered serious damage. Compare that to 8.4% of pre-1981, kyu-taishin buildings that suffered serious damage or collapsed. They are not utterly unsafe; many people in Japan live in them, but they are significantly less safe than other alternatives.
Taishin Buildings – Basic Structural Resistance
As of 1981, this is the lowest level of earthquake resistance permissible when constructing buildings. In a taishin-building the beams, pillars, and walls are made thicker to provide strength and prevent “pancake” collapses.
A taishin building is unlikely to suffer serious damage or collapse during an earthquake, but the shaking and swaying of the building can be very unpleasant, or dangerous, and the higher you are in the building, the worse it will be.
Seishin Buildings – Center Column Isolation
This level of resistance is not required by the law but is generally recommended for high-rise buildings. A cylindrical core of reinforced concrete at the center is structurally isolated from the peripheral steel framing, with the upper part of the core column made to function as a balancing weight. This level of resistance significantly reduces the sway of the building and serious damage. A room in this kind of building will offer more protection, but be more expensive to rent.
Menshin Buildings–Isolating Building’s Base
This is level of resistance is not required by the law but is generally recommended for high-rise buildings. It is the most expensive and least common option, but it is also the safest and most comfortable way to ride out an earthquake. Only skyscrapers and high-rise apartments offer this kind of resistance in general.
In a menshin building, the structure is actually isolated from the ground and as a result, there is a marked reduction in the force of the shaking experienced inside. Even in the upper floors of the building, where the worst is felt in other types of buildings, the earthquake will feel much slower and far less jarring. Riding out an earthquake in this type of building will often leave a feeling of seasickness.
Earthquake Proof Your Home
No matter what building you move into it is important to prepare your space for an earthquake. Most earthquake-related deaths and injuries are caused by being knocked to the ground, collapsing walls, flying glass, or falling objects such as TVs, lamps, glasses, or bookcases. You can significantly reduce your chances of injury, as well as the cost of replacing items if you secure them correctly.
Special items to help secure and stabilize furniture are sold in “home centers” (hardware stores), and called Jishin Taisaku Goods (Jishin= Earthquake, Taisaku= Plan or Countermeasure). Find the jishin taisaku area in your local shop, and see what small measures you can take to secure your furniture, or prevent the glass from breaking. Below are some examples of items you could buy to help earthquake-proof your home.
Glass Protection Film (Garasu Hisan Boshi Firumu)
Glass surfaces should be reinforced in some way. Some windows are already earthquake-proof; such as pebbled glass with wire crisscrossed through it to prevent splintering. Clear glass, however, should at least have a protective film applied to it to reduce the likelihood of splintering and razor-sharp glass flying during an earthquake or other forces.
Cabinet Door Latches (Tobira Kaihei Boshi Kigu)
Cupboards and cabinets that contain plates and glasses should, if possible, have sliding doors and not swinging doors. If your cupboards or cabinets contain swinging doors, one easy solution is to apply child locks, or cupboard door latches so that the swinging doors do not open easily during an earthquake. Once installed, these devices can be left permanently in place for the remainder of the cupboard or cabinet’s life.
Furniture Brackets (Kagu Tento Boshi Bo)
These can be fitted on top of your tall pieces of furniture and adjusted to be taut against the ceiling. Different from L-shaped brackets that require drilling into the wall and are permanent, these furniture brackets are mobile. Be warned that the furniture brackets should be checked every six months as they may come loose over time due to small movements of the furniture. When properly placed, the brackets should prevent furniture from toppling over during an earthquake.
Please note that if you are living in rented accommodation you should consult with your landlord before carrying out any invasive earthquake proofing that involves changing the interior of the property. Doing so without permission may result in you being charged for damages and repairs.
Where to Buy Earthquake Proofing
Loft (Variety Store)
Loft is a Japanese chain store that sells everyday commodities. It is a great store and a fantastic place to kill a couple hours, as well as find a good selection of items to help secure and otherwise protect your home during an earthquake.
There are many locations throughout Japan.
Tokyu Hands (Variety Store)
Tokyu Hands is a Japanese department store. Tokyu Hands focuses on hobby, home improvement, and lifestyle products, but you can also find items to help protect your home during an earthquake.
There are many locations throughout Japan.
“Home Centers” (Hardware Stores)
Hardware stores sometimes also known as DIY stores, sell household hardware for home improvement. These are mostly what you might expect to find, but it also very much depends on which one you go to.
No matter which one you go to, you should find items to help you protect yourself and your home during an earthquake. You can use these links to find a store near you (sorry, Japanese only!).
Amazon.co.jp is a very convenient place to order a variety of items. The website is very popular due to its English button, and that you can search in English or Japanese. The selection is not fantastic, but you will find a selection of items relevant to the discussion here. Clicking this link should give you a head start
- Get into the habit of turning your gas on and off at the mains. In Japan, this is a relatively easy thing to do in the kitchen.
- When displaying beautiful items on open shelves use some kind of double-sided tape to prevent them from falling over, or worse yet, flying off the shelf and injuring someone.
- Beds should not be placed under windows, near mirrors or by unsecured furniture such as bookshelves. When placing a bed in a room, keep in mind potential hazards and escape routes.
- Do not place tall furniture on soft floorings like carpet.
- Place light objects on the top and heavy objects on the bottom of bookshelves, cabinets, and cupboards.
- Do not place heavy furniture near doorways – it could block your escape if it falls over during an earthquake.
Build a 3 Day Evacuation Kit
It is important to be prepared for a disaster, but you should keep the danger in perspective. If you must live through a major quake, Japan is probably the best place to do it. Even in Japan, however, some previous preparation and pro-active thinking will help your family and home in a time of disaster.
To start with, every family should have a 3-Day Family Emergency / Evacuation Kit on hand. Building one, and periodically maintaining it, is not difficult or expensive, and it could pay tremendous dividends in safety and personal comfort for you and your family.
Most importantly, include:
- Water: 1 gallon / 4 liters of water per person, per day for drinking and sanitation
- Food: 3 days worth of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare foods (canned, shelf-stable)
Remember! Even non-perishable food and water have an expiry date. Periodically check and rotate food and water in your kit to ensure freshness
Additional Items to Include:
- Plastic (saran) wrap, paper cups, and plates, utensils (wrap to avoid washing)
- Manual can opener
- First aid kit including essential medications, prescriptions
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Portable radio with extra batteries
- Filter mask
- A tool to turn off utilities (wrench, pliers, or multi-purpose tool)
- Sanitation and personal hygiene items
- Garbage bags & plastic ties for personal sanitation, garbage
- Blankets (emergency)
- Warm clothes, change of clothes
- Copies of important documents, ID
- Passport, 30,000 yen in cash
- Family and emergency contact information
- Map of the area (evacuation areas)
Include as Required:
- 7-day supply of prescriptions, medications, and medical items (syringes, etc…)
- Baby care necessities (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
- Eldercare necessities
- Pet care necessities (collar, leash, ID, food, water, carrier, bowl)
- Games and activities for kids
Printable PDF Cheat Sheet
In order to ensure your ability to perform this task, Relo Japan, another part of The H&R Group, has provided this printable sheet, provided to their clients via their login site on www.ReloJapan.com. Print this sheet, and use it to build your own 3 Day Family Emergency or Evacuation Kit.
What to do During an Earthquake
Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world and if you live here you will experience an earthquake. Most likely, this earthquake will be small, but the probability of a severe and damaging earthquake occurring is high; the only question is when. Japan has long experience dealing with tremors of varying degrees, met some failures, and redoubled its efforts to become a leader in disaster preparedness and the development of earthquake-resistant technologies.
The Government of Japan and local authorities have the experience and expertise to build solid plans for their communities and it is important that residents be familiar with their ward or city office’s plans: such as knowing the closest evacuation point to your home. Besides knowing the role of government, it is important that all residents of Japan know their own role, and be individually prepared for a large earthquake or other disasters. By developing their own household emergency plans and procedures, and ensuring that all members of the household are familiar with them.
During an Earthquake While Indoors
If you are inside when an earthquake strikes stay inside. Do not run outside, or even into another room during actual shaking. Most earthquake-related deaths and injuries are caused by being knocked to the ground, collapsing walls, flying glass, or falling objects such as TVs, lamps, glasses, or bookcases. In most scenarios indoors you will reduce your chance of injury from falling objects and even building collapse if you immediately:
- DROP down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake can knock you down. This position protects you from falling but still allows you freedom of movement to get away from glass, hanging objects, and large furniture that could fall on you.
- COVER your head and neck (and your entire body if possible) under a sturdy table or desk. Do not stand in a doorway. You are safer under a table. If there are no places to shelter, get down next to an interior wall or low-lying furniture that won’t fall on you, and cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.
- HOLD ON to your shelter (or to your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.
A quick note of reinforcement. Some people believe the best way to respond to an earthquake is to immediately go outside. This is FLAT OUT WRONG. For more information why drop, cover, and hold on is recommended visit www.dropcoverholdon.org.
If you are in any of these specific locations of situations:
- In the kitchen: quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.
- In bed: hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are.
- In a wheelchair: Lock the wheels once you are in a safe position. If unable to move quickly, stay where you are and cover your head and neck with your arms.
- In a high-rise: Drop, cover, and hold on. Avoid windows and other hazards.
- Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
- In a stadium or theater: Stay at your seat and protect your head and neck with your arms.
- Don’t try to leave until the shaking is over. Then walk out slowly, watching for anything that could fall in an aftershock.
During an Earthquake While Outdoors
Most earthquakes related deaths and injuries are caused by being knocked to the ground, collapsing walls, flying glass, or falling objects. With that in mind, if you are outside when an earthquake strikes you should;
- Assess the situation, and stay where you are if safe to do so. You are safer not moving than moving.
- Move to an open area to avoid collapsing, flying, or falling objects.
- Drop down onto your hands and knees before the earthquake knocks you down. This position protects you from falling but still allows you freedom of movement.
- Cover your head and neck with your arms and hands
The most dangerous place to be during an earthquake is beneath the exterior walls of a building because windows, facades, and other architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. Stay away from this danger zone by staying inside if you are inside and outside if you are outside. Many injuries are caused by people crossing this danger zone while fleeing a building, or trying to duck inside one, during an earthquake. Stay out of it if at all possible!
While Riding in a Car, Train, or Subway
While in your Car
- Move to the side of the road and stop as quickly as safety permits
- Avoid stopping under bridges, overpasses, signs, building overhangs, power lines, trees, or any other falling hazards. Avoid parking next to buildings, your car offers very little protection should heavy objects fall on it
- Stay in your vehicle
- Turn off the engine, turn on your hazard lights, and put your handbrake on
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped, avoiding roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake, and anticipate traffic light outages
While in a Parking Garage
- Exit your car and drop down onto your hands and knees low and close to the side of the car to use it as protection. Do not get under the car.
- Cover your head and neck with your arms and hands
- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped, avoiding roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake
- While on a Train or Subway
- Hold on tightly to a strap or nearby pole, and watch for falling object hazards.
- Trains and subways will automatically stop when an earthquake of a significant magnitude strikes. Depending on the size of the quake, the train may resume service at a slower speed, otherwise, it may be stopped in the tunnel, and you will need to follow the cabin crew’s instructions.
What to do After an Earthquake
After the Shaking Stops
It is important to remember that after a major earthquake, the disaster may continue. After the shaking has subsided, you should first and foremost check yourself for injuries and seek first aid for yourself before attempting to help other injured or trapped persons.
- Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects
- Look quickly for damage in and around your home or office and get everyone out if it is unsafe to remain
- Listen for updated OFFICIAL emergency information and instructions. Do not fall prey to unfounded rumors
- Make brief calls only to report life-threatening emergencies. For other communication send text messages
- Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake
- Clean up spilled medications, bleach, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately
- Open closet and cabinet doors carefully as contents may have shifted
- Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and stay out of damaged areas.
- Stay out of damaged buildings
- If you were away from home, return only after authorities say it is safe to do so. Use extreme caution and examine walls, floors, doors, staircases, and windows to check for damage
- Let friends and family know you are safe. If needed, utilize the 171 Emergency Line. A voice message board service provided by NTT that is available when a disaster such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption occurs.
As mentioned earlier, it is important to remember that after a major earthquake, the disaster may continue. You should expect and prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides or even a tsunami. Each time you feel an aftershock, drop, cover and hold on. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks and even months following an earthquake, and can be very dangerous themselves.
If you live in a low lying area you should pay special attention to the danger presented by a tsunami. Tsunamis are large ocean waves generated by major earthquakes beneath the ocean floor. Tsunamis caused by nearby earthquakes may reach the coast within minutes. When the waves enter shallow water, they may rise to several feet or, in rare cases, tens of feet, striking the coast with devastating force.
Be aware that a tsunami could arrive within minutes after a major earthquake, and act accordingly.
If you live near the ocean you should know in advance where the designated safe areas are. Look for this sign, and follow it uphill immediately after the shaking stops after a major earthquake. Most areas in Japan have Tsunami warning systems that sound alarms, and information will be broadcast on the TV, radio, and you may even be sent a warning directly to your mobile phone.
If a tsunami is on its way, the safest place to be is naturally formed high ground, like a hill or a mountain, as far from the coastline as possible. Otherwise, the roof of a tall, sturdy building will do. In Japan, schools tend to be secure; small wooden houses are not.
Getting Information in English
After the physical safety of yourself and those around you have been secured to the best of your ability, stay tuned to local radio and television for updates on the situation and to hear any possible evacuation orders for your area.
English Reporting on NHK TV
Emergency reporting in English and other languages is available by tuning in to NHK Television. Under the Broadcast Act, NHK is obliged to broadcast emergency reporting in times of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
- NHK television channel 1
- NHK television channel 3
English Reporting on the US AFN Network
In the following areas you can also tune into the US Armed Forces Radio Network (AFN) for information in English.
- AFN Tokyo AM 810 kHz
- AFN Iwakuni AM 1575 kHz
- AFN Sasebo AM 1575 kHz
- AFN Okinawa FM 89.1 MHz
English Information on the Internet
Japan Meteorological Agency
The most important site to know for information in English on storms, earthquakes, or tsunami is the Japan Meteorological Agency website. The JMA is tasked with the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters and is responsible for issuing earthquake, weather, tsunami, and related warnings and advisories to the public.
Your Country’s Embassy or Consulate
The embassy or consulate of your home country to Japan should provide information and instructions to its citizens and their families that are specific to the circumstances of the event; be it a natural disaster, civil emergency, etc. In the event of an emergency, contact your country’s embassy or consulate. You can find links to their websites on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website here.
Cabinet Office, GOJ – Policies for Foreign Residents (Disaster Prevention)
Tokyo Metropolitan Gov – Disaster Prevention Information
Tokyo Metropolitan Gov – Earthquake Preparedness Information
Tokyo – Earthquake Survival Manual
Kanagawa Prefectural Gov – Daily Life Information
Osaka Prefecture Gov – Disaster Prevention Information
Fukuoka Prefecture Gov – Daily Life Info
Okinawa Prefecture Gov – Daily Life Information
Hokkaido Prefecture Gov – Daily Life Information
Aichi Prefecture Gov – Daily Living Information (Disaster Prevention)