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safety - 大災害に備える

Preparing for a major earthquake

Today, for those of you who live in Japan or plan to, I would like to share with you an overview of the damage caused by previous major earthquakes in Japan and what you should be aware of when renting or buying a home in the future.

This chart has been extracted from material on the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s website and translated into English.

In the case of Tokyo (formerly Edo), where I live now, it is recorded that on 11 November 1855, an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 struck directly below Tokyo, killing more than 7,000 people as a result of collapsed houses and fires. (This is known as the Ansei Earthquake.) On 1 September 1923, a massive earthquake of magnitude 7.9 (the Great Kanto Earthquake) hit the Tokyo metropolitan area, destroying more than 370,000 houses and killing more than 100,000 people.

In the Hanshin area, which is as densely populated as Tokyo, a massive earthquake of magnitude 7.3 (the Great Hanshin Earthquake) struck in the early morning of 17 January 1995, completely destroying about 105,000 houses, partially destroying about 144,000 houses, and killing 6,434 people in the Hanshin area centered on Kobe City and the northern part of Awaji Island. I was a student at Kyoto University at the time and was shocked to see the massive fires on TV in the student canteen that evening. If you were not in Japan in 1995, you can see the damage in the video below. (Please note that some people may be shocked by this video.)


You can see how the motorway’s column legs were broken and reinforced concrete buildings collapsed, blocking the road. Since then, some improvements have been made, such as reinforcing the highway and making the gas meter stop when it detects an earthquake, but it is not necessarily safer today than it was then, as areas of dense wooden housing have not changed that much.

In addition to this, on 23 October 2004, an earthquake of magnitude 6.8 occurred in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture. My grandmother used to live in this area. Fortunately, there were few casualties because the houses in this area were designed to withstand the heavy snowfall more strongly than those on the Pacific side.(However, 16 people died in the collapsed buildings. My grandmother, who was very old, was lucky to survive.) I have found a document that gives you an idea of what the ground will look like during an earthquake.


The text is in Japanese only, but the pictures give an idea of the extent of the phenomenon caused by the earthquake.

Then, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake of magnitude 9.0 struck off the coast of Sanriku (the Great East Japan Earthquake). Some 118,000 homes were completely destroyed, 182,000 were partially destroyed and 15,824 people were killed. In addition, from 14 to 16 April 2016, seven earthquakes of magnitudes 6.5, 7.3, etc. occurred in Kumamoto Prefecture in succession.

Given these facts, it is no surprise that if you live in Japan, you could be hit by a major earthquake at any time. So what do you need to do to survive a major earthquake?

Since the most common causes of unfortunate deaths in earthquakes are being caught up in a collapsed house, being trapped in a fire, or becoming a victim of a landslide or tsunami, consideration should be given to minimizing the risk.

For this reason. If you are able to choose the location of your home, it is best to live on land with good soil. If you are living on soft ground, it is better to live in a solid building.

Even if your house is intact, it could be in danger if a fire breaks out in the surrounding area. If you live at the end of a narrow street where fire engines cannot get in, you need to take this risk into account.

In the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, fire engines were unable to reach the scene of the fire quickly because the roads were so congested that vehicles could only proceed 200 metres per hour, and because many fires broke out at the same time, far exceeding the capacity of the fire station to extinguish them. In such cases, it is important to understand the characteristics of the area where your home is located and to work with your neighbours to help each other and evacuate properly.

It is therefore ideal if you can have your home in a location where the ground is good. It is also important to choose a location where you will have plenty of time to evacuate in the event of a fire, and where you can still build good relationships with your neighbours. It is then advisable to make your home as earthquake-resistant as possible.