Earthquake in Japan: Essential tips for staying safe

Unfortunately, earthquakes are a relatively common occurrence in Japan. They can be frightening to experience, but there are some simple measures you can take to be prepared and minimise danger.

Find out what to do before, during and after an earthquake in our guide below:


What to do before an earthquake

Re-position and secure furniture

How your furniture is arranged in your home in Japan is as much a question of safety as it is aesthetics. During an earthquake, furniture can fall and injure you or block your escape. So, when arranging the furniture in your home in Japan don't forget these safety tips:

  • Do not place furniture near doors or windows that could block your escape.
  • Place your bed in a spot away from any furniture that could fall when an earthquake occurs.
  • Secure tall and heavy items, such as bookshelves with tension rods or brackets as shown in the pictures below;
arrange correctly your furniture

Make a note of emergency contacts/numbers

There are special phone numbers to report different emergencies in Japan. In the case of an earthquake, you can call “119” to request the fire brigade or an ambulance.

If you wish to contact your family and friends, the best way to do it is to dial “171”. Through this system, you can listen to or leave a short message for those that know your phone number.

For more information on these numbers you can read our guide: "Emergency Phone Numbers in Japan".

Prepare an emergency kit 


Check your emergency kit regularly!

It is a good idea to keep a bag pre-stocked with items that can last you a week in case of an emergency. The kit should be light enough so that you can carry it around. Here are some recommendations:

  • First aid kit

  • Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location)

  • Bottled water (enough for drinking/using for hygiene)

  • Dust mask

  • Emergency cash

  • Sturdy shoes

  • Road maps

  • Raincoat

  • Towel
  • Medications

  • Copies of medical cards and personal identification

  • Multifunctional knife

  • Portable light and radio

  • Lighter

  • Gloves

  • Emergency food enough to last a week

  • Emergency blanket

What to do during an earthquake

If you are inside a building


Do not panic, stay calm

If you are indoors; in your house, office, school, or a building, drop down and take cover under a desk or table and hold on. If there is no place to hide, protect your head with a pillow/ cushion or a bag. Keep away from windows and shelves that may break and fall on you. Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to move.

As soon as the earthquake appears to be over, close the gas mains and turn off the circuit breaker to prevent any fires. When evacuating, pay attention to falling debris and only try to move through wide-open spaces.

If you are outside

Take shelter in a clear space that is away from walls and utility poles that may fall on you. Take cover by dropping to the ground and protecting your head with whatever you can (e.g. your bag). If you are underground, do not cause a panic by rushing to the exit.

If you are in a car or a train

If you are in the car, stop the car at a safe place and stay there until the shaking stops. Do not stop the car in the middle of the street, as it may hinder emergency vehicles from passing.

If you are on a train, take a low posture or grab tightly onto a handrail. Listen carefully to any instructions by the conductor.

If you are in an elevator

Elevators usually stop automatically in response to shaking. In such a situation, you should push all the buttons on the elevator. The door will open at the nearest floor. Leave the elevator and find a secure place (ideally an area that is away from windows or furniture that is likely to break).

If you are on a beach

The biggest earthquake-related danger is the possibility of a tsunami. If you are at the beach or near the coast and experience an earthquake, evacuate immediately, and try to get to an elevated area as far inland as possible. Keep yourself updated and informed and find a safe place to refuge.

If you are too late to evacuate, you must try to go to a higher place, rather than a more distant place from the beach. Find a tall and solid building and go up to the 3rd floor or higher.

Stay away from the beach even after the shaking has stopped. A tsunami is a series of enormous ocean waves and can attack repeatedly, (the first wave may not be the largest wave - the second and third wave may be larger and more destructive).

What to do after an earthquake

  • Try to evacuate by walking and or cycling.
    Try to leave roads free for fire trucks and ambulances to pass through easily and avoid using cars

  • Turn off electricity, gas and water in your home.
    Make sure to use a flashlight instead of lighting matches

  • Be aware of aftershocks and any other hazards.
    Assess your home for any damage and be prepared to evacuate if necessary

  • Ration your use of water and food.
    Make sure that you have at least 6 to 8 litres of water and food to last a week

  • Use multiple means of communication to avoid network congestion.
    Telephone lines are often crowded after an earthquake. Try communicating with your family through
    the ‘171’ service, or by sending an SMS or through social media platforms if possible

Helpful phrases to use during an earthquake

English Phrase Japanese Translation Pronunciation
Help me! 助けて! Tasukete!
Where is the evacuation place? 避難場所はどこですか。 Hinanbasho wa doko desuka?
Does anyone speak English? 英語を話せる人はいませんか。 Eigo o hanaseru hito wa imasenka?
I injured my leg/arm. 足/腕をけがしました。 Ashi/ude o kega shimashita.
I want something to eat and to drink. 食べ物と飲み物が欲しいです。 Tabemono to Nomimono ga hoshî desu.