Listen, if we’re being honest, Japan, on paper, seems to be a pretty inhospitable environment: It’s susceptible to numerous earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, and hosts numerous active volcanoes. In spite of all of these signals that Mother Nature might be telling them to beat it, the Japanese have managed and mitigated disasters pretty well. There have been some tragic shortfalls, to be sure, but how does Japan prepare itself and its citizens for disasters via awareness?
Disaster Remembrance Days
These tend to fall on days of immense disaster in modern Japanese history. The one that really set off the initiative to educate the public more formally came after Typhoon Vera (Ise Bay Typhoon) in September of 1959 and the staggering loss of life it brought with it. The Great Kanto Earthquake on September 1, 1923 shook Tokyo, Yokohama, and the nation and destroyed countless lives. September 1st, therefore, was designated as a day of remembrance in 1960. The day also focuses on education and awareness of emergency procedures in the event of a disastrous earthquake. Likewise, after the tsunami on March 3, 2011, March 3rd is commonly known as 3-11 in Japan, and often sees ceremonies and moments of remembrance across the nation, particularly in Fukushima, where it was hit with the worst of the disaster. In light of this disaster, the government designated November 5 as Tsunami Preparedness Day.
Disaster Response Volunteer Day, Disaster Prevention Week
January 17th is designated as Disaster Response Volunteer Day. This is in commemoration of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of January 17, 1995. Due to the outpouring of disaster response volunteers, the Japanese government decided to dedicate the day to honor those who volunteer and put their lives in danger in the name of serving others after a natural disaster. This year, we received a nice brochure from our apartment building going over evacuation routes, meeting points, safety tips, and more for a variety of disasters (such as earthquakes and fires). Most Japanese people get these procedures and various information taught to them in their school days, so the information for a foreign resident like myself who didn’t experience earthquakes until coming to Japan is greatly welcomed.
My experiences with disasters, having lived in Florida, relate mainly to hurricanes/typhoons. Typhoon season is pretty familiar to me, having experienced their Atlantic counterparts on an up-close and personal level many times. The worst of it was when Hurricane Charley rolled through Charlotte Harbor in 2004, effectively flattening my hometown as it made landfall as a Category 4 storm. Memories of that storm and its sudden and rapid strengthening and path change taught me that you can’t be too sure about storms, and you should always be prepared for the worst.
Lastly, there is an entire week dedicated to disaster preparedness. It usually falls in late August/early September and is meant to help as another friendly reminder of what to do in case of disaster. With a steady stream of dates dedicated to public education and preparing for disaster, Japanese people tend to know what to do fairly well for each type of disaster. I can’t recommend enough the Science Craft article detailing the history and purpose of Japan’s public disaster education; it’s a truly fascinating read!