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Although Japan is modern and safe, it is always useful to be prepared. This chapter provides some background information and useful references for essential services and emergencies.

In case of Emergency

Call the following numbers in case of an emergency. (Toll-free)

Police Consultation Services in English

03-3501-0110 (8:30am-5:15pm/Mon-Fri)

Making an emergency call from a public phone

In the event of an emergency such as sudden sickness, fire, accident or crime involvement, please dial the emergency numbers for help. Even with public phones, you can call these numbers for free. Ambulances and fire engines are free of charge.

A Koban (local police box), is a small building where police officers are stationed 24 hours a day. The work if the police officers in a Koban includes, but is not limited to, patrolling the area, dealing with accidents/incidents, filing reports of lost and found property and giving directions.

On InterFM (76.1 MHz), disaster information will be broadcast in multiple languages in the event of an emergency.

Japan Helpline

Provides assistance services for foreign residents, from simple questions to emergencies.
0570-000-911 24hrs., Daily

Tokyo English Life Line (TELL)

TELL offers anonymous telephone counseling in English for the international and Japanese community. Trained telephone counselors provide support on a wide range of issues.
03-5774-0992 9:00am-11:00pm, Daily

Fire and Disaster Management Agency
Living Information
Metropolitan Police Department
Tokyo Fire Department Multilingual Page

Weather Disasters

Tokyo is especially prone to weather related disasters, including typhoons, heavy rains, windstorms and snow. In the event of such disasters it is important to safeguard against injury and damage caused by falls or by flying debris. Additionally, severe weather can negatively impact transportation and caution should be taken when needed.

Typhoons and Heavy Rain

The typhoon season in Japan is from August through October, so it is important to be aware of the hazards of strong winds and heavy rains. During heavy rainfall precipitation can exceed 100mm per hour, overwhelming the drainage capacity of flood control centers. Below are some guidelines to minimize possible damages.

  • Close and lock windows properly. Move anything indoors that is breakable or that can be caught in a wind gust including plants, pots, and patio furniture.
  • If you have a basement room accessible from outside, block the door and do not go inside.
  • Check the TV or radio for updated weather reports and road conditions. Find out beforehand where English news is broadcast.
  • Blackout and water outage can occur in worse cases.
  • Beware of flying debris when outdoors.
  • Stay away from rivers and waterfront.
  • When there is heavy rain, it is better not to use underground facilities.


It is unusual for snowfall in Tokyo to continue for many days. While deep snow is unlikely in Tokyo, slips and falls due to frozen roads remain a significant danger. Additionally, since public transportation in Tokyo is ill-prepared for snow, train delays and stoppages can be severe.


Basic Facts and Disaster Prevention

Earthquake Intensity (Shindo)
When an earthquake occurs in Japan, in addition to the standard magnitude scale a second scale known as “Shindo” is employed. This scale is unique to Japan and measures the degree of shaking caused by the quake. Earthquakes are rated weakest to strongest, from 0 to 7, and earthquakes of Shindo 5 or above are further divided into ‘Lower’ or ‘Upper’ subcategories (i.e., “5 Lower,” “5 Upper”), for a total of 10 levels. The Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 and the Tohoku Earthquake in 2011 both measured 7 at areas where it shook the most (the Tohoku Earthquake was experienced as a 5 Upper in Tokyo). Magnitude and Shindo scales do not correspond to each other.

Earthquake Early Warning (EEW/Kinkyu Jishin Sokuho)
The EEW is an earthquake warning dispatched by the Japanese Meteoroligical Agency (JMA). Immediately after an earthquake occurs, the JMA relays information on the epicenter, magnitude, and expected impact times and intensity to surrounding regions. When the Shindo is estimated as a 5 Lower or abovem an emergency dispatch is sent to the general public causing alarms to ring on mobile phones, televisions and radios. The dispatch (in Japanese) reads, “An earthquake has occurred. Please prepare for strong tremors.” Televisions may also display a map indicating the epicenter of the quake and warning areas. When the early warning alarm rings, it is important that you take cover in a calm and orderly manner.

Emergency Survival Kit
The Japanese national and regional governments suggest you prepare the items listed below. It is recommended that you prepare 3 days’ worth of supplies for each member of your family. However, kits should also remain light weight as the ability to evacuate quickly is vital. Divide your emergency kit into smaller packs, containing only the absolute necessities. Items should be placed in a backpack in order to leave both hands free while evacuating.

  • Water: 3L per person per day.
  • Food: Disaster survival food, hard candies, chocolate, nutritional supplements and other concentrated sourced of calories, and powdered milk or baby food if necessary.
  • First aid kit: Common household medicines, disinfectant, bandages, gauze, surgical masks, etc.
  • Spare batteries and chargers: It is a good idea to prepare a stock of dry cell batteries and solar chargers.
  • Radio: Radios will be a vital source of information. Those with a built-in hand crank generator as well as a flashlight and mobile phone chargers make a convenient choice.
  • Flashlight (Lighting): Include a flashlight or a headlamp for power outages. Candles and lighters are also acceptable.
  • Cash, copies of identification, contact information: Proof of identification as well as emergency contact details will be useful. Cash should include change and small denomination paper bills.
  • Wet wipes, towels, change of clothes, spare glasses, etc.: Include wet wipes or alcohol gel so that you can clean or sterilize without soap or water. Those with poor eyesight or other medical problems should also prepare any necessary spare devices. A change of underwear may also be a good idea. Diapers and sanitary items should be prepared if necessary.

While they need not be placed in your emergency bag, the following items may also prove useful.

  • Work gloves, helmet, wind/waterproof gear, outdoor knife, shoes: In order to protect against hazards such as broken glass or falling debris you should prepare work gloves, a helmet and shoes with sturdy soles which are easy to walk in. Wind and waterproof gear will not only protect against bad weather but also agains heat and cold.

Complete emergency evacuation kits are sold in stores and on the Internet. In addition to the above items, many of these kits contain blankets, portable toilets, or other items. It is best to investigate the contents of these kits yourself, and to furnish any other items you feel are lacking.

Thrive Life

High quality freeze dried emergency food for your home or evacuation kits. Easy open lids and 25 year shelf life. Contact Chad or Rachel Mano.
Phone: 435-232-8541 (USA / English & Spanish) | E-mail: rachel@thrivecrew.com

Keep all exits clear and have large items such as your TV, computer, cupboards, and bookshelves fixed properly to prevent them from toppling. Secure any breakables. It is also a good idea to keep your bathtub filled with water in preparation for water outages.

Fire Prevention
Learn how to extinguish any fires which can be caused by earthquakes. Know where your local emergency centers are and check these locations for further information on earthquake preparedness.

Disaster Prevention Drills / Simulations
Disaster prevention drills are carried out year-round throughout Japan in order to prepare for earthquakes. The most exemplary of these is a large scake earthquake drill conducted by the national and local governments on September 1st (or thereabouts). Drills taking place on this day involve walking from one’s home to the nearest evacuation center, practicing the use of fire fighting equipment, drills to simulate rescuing persons from fallen buildings, first aid response and the use of AED defibrillators. In coastal regions where tsunamis can be expected, tsunami evacuation drills are also carried out.
Many Japanese schools carry out their own emergency drills on this day in order to teach the appropriate response during earthquakes, and to practice returning from school in groups.

In addition to disaster drills a variety of other simulations are offered, such as an earthquake simulation truck which allows a person to experience strong tremors firsthand, or a hands-on opportunity to test out Emergency Dial and Disaster Message Board services.
Foreign residents are also encouraged to participate in these drills, and the number of regions offering instructions in foreign languages via interpreters has increased in recent years. Some areas also offer separate drills designed specifically for foreigners.

Evacuation Route & Temporary Shelters
Confirm the route from your home or workplace to the nearest evacuation center in advance. Public evacuation centers are usually in open areas like schools or parks. These evacuation centers will have emergency provisions such as food and water, and are a good place to receive information from various administrative bodies. Individual localities have disaster hazard maps which show levels of damage expected by area, and include recommended evacuation routes and sites. These maps are available online via the individual homepages.

If a large scale earthquake occurs, expect that public transportation will be unavailable. In urban centers which rely heavily upon public transportation the loss of transportation can quickly lead to chaos. Roads will also be crowded, so one should refrain from driving if possible. It is recommended that you confirm a walking route from your work to home in advance, and keep a helmet and a pair of walking shoes in a locker at work, especially if the distance to be walked is far.

During a disaster, stations, public facilities, and private facilities including colleges, temples/shrines, halls, department stores, hotels and other stores open a portion of their facilities as temporary shelter, for those who are unable to return home. In addition to shelter from the elements, some of them provide temporary lodgings offering basic food, drink and blankets. While unable to offer shelter or lodging, other places offer use of land-line telephones, food supplies, water and information via television and radio. Often street side vending machines will also be opened up, free of charge.

In the Event of a Large-scale Earthquake

First Steps
When you feel a tremor first take cover, protecting your head with your arms or belongings such as a bag, cushion, or coat. Strong shaking usually lasts less than 60 seconds, however, because large aftershocks can occur, once the initial tremor is over evacuation should be carried out swiftly.

  • At home: Take cover under a sturdy table or desk. Tremors can sometimes cause doors and windows to warp, so ensure your escape route by opening one in advance. Once the tremor finishes immediately extinguish any open flames (stoves, heaters, candles, etc.), and turn off breakers and gas valves before evacuating. In crowded urban residential areas it is especially important to safeguard against the outbreak and spread of fires.
  • When outside: Beware of debris from damaged buildings, walls, telephone poles, traffic lights, falling glass, billboards, etc., and make your way to an open space. Avoid walking in raodways whenever possible.
  • Inside buildings, shopping complexes and underground shopping centers: Move away from any glass, lighting fixtures or display shelves. When evacuating, follow the instructions given by those in charge. Do not use elevators or escalators. Older office and high rise buildings pose a high risk of collapsing and should be evacuated immediately. Many of the newer buildings include earthquake resistant or seismic isolation structures, and will pose ledd of a threat. In buildings with few support columns ceilings may collapse.
  • Trains and subways: Hold onto handrails and strapsm and beware of sudden stops and falling items from the luggage rack.
  • While driving: Reduce your speed gently and pull to a stop on the left side of the road. If a parking lot or other open area is available it is better to stop there. Once the tremor stops exit your car and begin evacuating on foot. In mountainous areas where landslides pose a danger or coastal regions where tsunamis are possible you should evacuate to safety immediately.
  • Coastal regions: If you are near the sea, once a large tremor hits it is generally best to evacuate towards higher ground immediately. The tsunami arrival times can range from a matter of minutes to several hours, and waves can continue for hours to days. Even if a tsunami does not occur right after the earthquake, it is dangerous to return to seaside areas. Be especially wary if the ocean water recedes significantly, as this is a drastic sign that evacuation is necessary.

Communication Means
When a disaster occurs, large numbers of people will attempt to contact each other simultaneously, and telephones, especially mobile phones will become extremely difficult to reach. Compared to mobile phones land lines are more likely to be free.

In order to allow people to confirm the safety of their family and loved ones, phone companies have established Emergency Dial and Disaster Message Board Services. These services are made available whenever an earthquake of 6 Lower or above occurs in Japan, as well as any other major disaster such as those caused by typhoons or heavy rain.
Emergency Dial is a voice message service, and is usually easier to connect to than individual numbers. It can be reached from public phones as well.
Disaster Message Board Services, accessible from mobile phones, allow you to leave a short text message. Web171 is a similar service that can be accessed via Internet. Check the websites listed below to see how wach service works.
Message boards will also be set up at individual evacuation centers where people may leave their name and message. In the event that telephone and Internet should become completely unavailable, it is important that you and your family choose an evacuation point in advance and discuss your means for contacting one another.

Disaster Emergency Dengon Dial

NTT Communications http://506506.ntt.com/english/service/saigai/
NTT East Disaster Emergency Message Dial (171)


Disaster Message Board (web171)

NTT East / NTT West https://www.web171.jp

Information Source
If an earthquake occurs, the first information to be reported will be when and where the earthquake occurred, followed by more concrete information on the magnitude, Shindo rating of the regions hit, and the possibility of tsunami. If transportation is also impacted, relevant information will be displayed.
During a large disaster it is easy to panic. It is necessary at these times to gather your information from a wide range of public sources and to evaluate them with an objective and level head.
In order to avoid contributing to further panic and misinformation, do not repeat any information when you are unaware of its source.

Useful References

Japan Meteorological Agency


Safety Tips for Travelers


Tokyo Metropolitan Government Disaster Prevention Information


Tokyo International Communication Committee / Assistance Manual for Foreigners in Time of Disaster


Kanagawa Prefecture Disaster Prevention and Emergency Information

http://www.pref.kanagawa.jp/sys/bousai/portal/index.html (Japanese only)

City of Yokohama Emergency Management Office


Kawasaki City Disaster Prevention Portal Site