Before, During, and After a Disaster: What You Need to Know

Understandably, nobody wants to be involved in a disaster, but if it happens, Nagoya is one of the best places to be. The Japanese government has established a solid infrastructure for emergencies, including building codes and civil procedures. However, no country can guarantee an immediate and adequate response to any contingency. There’s expected to be a lag time of at least three days from the incident to the complete response, and it’s the responsibility of individuals and families to prepare for this period.

This guide primarily focuses on earthquakes, the most likely disasters to occur. However, many actions taken to prepare for, respond to, survive until help arrives, and recover from an earthquake can be applied to various disasters. The purpose of this guide is to provide a broad overview of how to prepare yourself and your family for the worst-case scenario.

Before, During, and After a Disaster: What You Need to Know

What to Know Before an Emergency

How to Call Emergency Services

  • Dial 119 for the fire department or medical services
  • Dial 110 for police services
  • Dial 118 for marine services (Coast Guard, etc.)

In zn, the emergency number is 119. This number can be dialed for free from any phone and connects the caller to fire and emergency medical services. However, it is important to note that the 119 system in Japan only connects to fire or ambulance services. If you need to contact the police, dial a separate emergency number, 110. For marine services, you can dial 118.

You should not expect to receive foreign language assistance when dialing for police or fire. Even if you speak very simply in English, you may be able to get assistance, but it is highly recommended that you know at least some basic vocabulary. It is also worth noting that dialing either of these numbers from a landline will automatically locate your position.

Basic Vocabulary: 

  • Fire                                         KAJI DESU
  • Car Accident                         JIDOUSHA JIKO DESU
  • Ambulance                           KYUU KYUU DESU
  • Police                                     KEISATSU DESU

Ask a Neighbor / Passerby to Call for Help

  • Please call an ambulance!                KYUU KYUU SHA O YONDE KUDASI
  • Please get in touch with the fire department!      SHOBOSHA O YONDE KUDASAI
  • Please get in touch with the police!                        KEISATSU O YONDE KUDASAI

Describing Your Emergency

  • Bleeding                             SHUKKETSU DESU
  • Broken bone                      KOSSETSU DESU
  • Burn                                    HIDOI YAKEDO DESU
  • Difficulty breathing         KOKYUU KONNAN DESU
  • Convulsions                       KEIREN DESU
  • Chest pains                        MUNE GA TAIHEN KURUSHII DESU
  • High fever                          KOU NETSU DESU
  • Injury                                  KEGA DESU
  • Poison                                 DOKUBUTSU DESU
  • Sick                                      BYOUKI DESU
  • Unconscious                      ISHIKI FUMEI DESU

Get Emergency Assistance by phone

Speak and clearly, in Japanese if possible, and explain:

  • What you need            – Police (110), Fire Department, Ambulance (119)
  • What happened          – Fire, Accident, Injury, Illness
  • Where you are            – Address
  • Who you are                – Name, phone number

Sample Phone Call to 119

This is neither precise nor exhaustive. It is only to give you a basic idea of what is required.

Emergency Call Dialogue

119SHOU BOU CHOU… KAJI DESU KA? KYUU KYUU DESU KA?(Fire department… Fire or ambulance?)
CallerKYUU KYUU DESU. (Ambulance) KAJI DESU (Fire)
119DOU SHIMASHITA KA? (What happened?)
Caller(see “Describing Your Emergency” below)
119JUSHO HA DOCHIRADESUKA? (What is the address?) – AND / OR – NANI KU, NANI CHO, NANCHO ME, NAN BAN, NAN GO DESUKA?(Please give the ward (or city) name first, then the town name and banchi number.)
Caller3 Chome-1-1 Sannomaru, Naka Ward, Nagoya (see “Giving Your Address” below)
1193 Chome-1-1 Sannomaru, Naka Ward, Nagoya (They will likely repeat your address.)
119ONAMAE HA (What is your name)
119DENWA BANGO O OSHIETE KUDASAI ( What is your phone number?)
Caller052-961-1111 DESU

Give Your Address

It is important to remember that in an emergency, the operator needs to know your location to send help. The operator will automatically receive your address if you use a landline phone. However, if you are using a cellular phone, the operator will need to confirm the address generated by the system. You must know your address and can provide directions to your house in Japanese style. The operators are looking for the address in the Japanese style, which is different from English. The examples below will help you understand this style better.

Nagoya, Naka Ward, Sannomaru, 3 Chome-1-1
City Hall

What is the 171 System?

Communication can become difficult in case of an earthquake or any other disaster. The authorities have created a message bank to help confirm the location and safety of affected people. You can leave a message or access messages left for you through this service.

NTT has also developed a Disaster Message Dial 171 Service that can be used from NTT public phones. Although the touch-tone system provides guidance only in Japanese, you can use the cheat sheet provided at the end of this section to assist you. Keep it near your phone at home, just in case!

How to Use the Disaster Emergency Message System

To Leave a Message 171+1+ (052) XXX-XXXX

  1. Dial 171
  2. 2.    Press 1, then the pound sign (1#)
  3. Dial your own number or another number where you would like to leave a message in full (NOT cellular phone or IP phone).
  4. Press 1, then the pound sign  (1#)
  5. Leave a message after the beep
  6. Press 9, then the pound sign  (9#) to listen to your recorded message
  7. Press 8, then the pound sign to re-record
  8. Hang up

To Listen to Messages (up to 10) 171+1+ (052) XXX-XXXX

  1. Dial 171
  2. Press 2, then the pound sign
  3. Press 2 and then dial your own number starting with the area code to hear messages left for you


  1. Press 2 and then dial the number starting with the area code of the person you are trying to contact
  2. Press 1, then the pound sign to listen to the message (1#)
  3. Press 8, then the pound sign to repeat (8#)
  4. Press 9, then the pound sign to hear the next message (9#)
  5. Press 3, then the pound sign to record additional messages (3#)
  6. Hang up

Please Note:

  • 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

Where is my Evacuation Area?

In a severe disaster or emergency, you may be instructed to evacuate your home and gather with others in officially designated areas. These areas could be large parks, public buildings, or open spaces, with schools being the most common option as they are usually built on high, safe ground.

Depending on the level of damage and danger, Nagoya has three types of evacuation areas: temporary evacuation sites, open evacuation areas, and evacuation shelters. Temporary evacuation sites are the nearest spacious places to take refuge and assess the situation. Resident associations usually designate these sites.

Suppose your local assembly area is not improving your safety or is unreachable. In that case, you should move up to an open evacuation area designated by your city, ward, town, or village office, depending on the size of your locality.

Evacuation shelters are designated 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.

It is essential to know what and where your nearest evacuation area is, which is determined by the local neighborhood association or the government. You should seek this information from them to ensure you know what to do in an emergency.

Additional Evacuation Area Resources 

Nagoya Evacuation Areas and Shelters

What to Do Before an Earthquake

Nagoya is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, meaning earthquakes are relatively common. Small tremors are felt in some parts of the country almost every day, and there have been several notably severe earthquakes in recent history, including the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami, which claimed the lives of 15,891 people. It is important to note that while the damage was significant, most of the deaths were caused by the tsunami, not the shaking. It is also worth mentioning that damage and casualties from one of the largest earthquakes in human history were minimal.

One of the main reasons for this was the implementation of building and housing construction codes after 1981, which were progressively improved further in response to The Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated the Kobe area in 1995, taking the lives of 6,434 people. The horror of Japan’s experiences in Kobe put new energy towards improving building codes and procedures, which significantly reduced the Tohoku quake’s effects.

Preparing for a natural disaster is crucial because if the worst happens, it could take days before services are restored. Ensuring access to food, clean water, and sanitation will make the wait far more comfortable for you and your family.

Understand Building Standards

When choosing a home in Nag0ya, it is important to consider the building standards. The most recent building standards were introduced in 1981, 2000, and 2006. Buildings that conform to the 1981 standards are called “shin-taishin buildings” and are the safest option.

Kyu-taishin buildings, built before 1981, are no longer permissible to build but are still available for rent. However, they are not recommended as they are significantly less safe than other alternatives. During the 1995 Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake, only 0.3% of buildings built to post-1981 shin-taishin standards suffered severe damage, compared to 8.4% of pre-1981 kyu-taishin buildings.

Taishin buildings, which were built after 1981, have basic structural resistance. While they are unlikely to suffer severe damage or collapse during an earthquake, the shaking and swaying of the building can be very unpleasant or dangerous, especially on higher floors.

Seishin buildings are not required by law but are generally recommended for high-rise buildings. They have a cylindrical reinforced concrete core at the center, structurally isolated from the peripheral steel framing. This level of resistance significantly reduces the sway of the building and serious damage.

Menshin buildings are the safest and most comfortable way to ride out an earthquake. They are not required by law but are generally recommended for high-rise buildings. In a menshin building, the structure is actually isolated from the ground, resulting in a marked reduction in the force of the shaking experienced inside. Even on 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. However, they are the most expensive and least common option.

Earthquake Proof Your Home

It is important to prepare your living space for an earthquake, regardless of your building. Most earthquake-related injuries and deaths are caused by falling objects such as TVs, lamps, glasses, bookcases, collapsing walls, flying glass, or being knocked to the ground. You can significantly reduce the risk of injury and the cost of replacing items by securing them correctly.

You can find special items to help secure and stabilize furniture in “home centers” (hardware stores) called Jishin Taisaku Goods (Jishin= Earthquake, Taisaku= Plan or Countermeasure). Look for 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 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. However, clear glass should have a protective film applied to it to reduce the likelihood of splintering and razor-sharp glass flying during an earthquake or other forces. This film is called Glass Protection Film (Garasu Hisan Boshi Firumu).

Cupboards and cabinets containing plates and glasses should have sliding doors instead of 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. These latches are called Cabinet Door Latches (Tobira Kaihei Boshi Kigu). 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) can be fitted on top of your tall pieces of furniture and adjusted to be taut against the ceiling. Unlike L-shaped brackets that require permanent drilling into the wall, these furniture brackets are mobile. However, they should be checked every six months as they may come loose over time due to small furniture movements. When properly placed, the brackets should prevent furniture from toppling over during an earthquake.

If you live in rented accommodation, you should consult with your landlord before doing any invasive earthquake-proofing that involves changing the property’s interior. 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 popular chain store in Japan that offers a wide range of everyday commodities. It is an excellent place to spend a few hours and explore a diverse selection of items that can help you secure and protect your home during an earthquake. With numerous locations across Japan, it is easily accessible to everyone.

Loft Website (English)

Tokyu Hands (Variety Store)

Tokyu Hands is a Japanese department store specializing in hobby, home improvement, and lifestyle products. They also offer earthquake preparedness items. With multiple locations throughout Japan, Tokyu Hands is a one-stop shop for all your needs.

Tokyu Hands Website (English)
Tokyu Hands selection of emergency goods and foods

“Home Centers” (Hardware Stores)

Hardware stores, also known as DIY stores, offer a wide range of household hardware for home improvement. The products available may vary depending on the store you visit. However, you can expect to find items that can help you protect yourself and your home during an earthquake. If you’re looking for a hardware store near you, you can use the links below (please note that they are only available in Japanese). (online) is a highly convenient platform to order a wide range of items. The website is quite popular because of its English button and the ability to search in English and Japanese. Although the selection is not exceptional, you can still find items relevant to your needs. To get started, click the link to give yourself a head start. selection of emergency goods and foods 

Other Tips:

  1. Make it a habit to turn your gas on and off at the mains. In Japan, this is relatively easy to do in the kitchen.
  2. When displaying beautiful items on open shelves, use double-sided tape to prevent them from falling over or, worse yet, injuring someone by flying off the shelf.
  3. Avoid placing beds under windows, near mirrors, or by unsecured furniture such as bookshelves. Consider potential hazards and escape routes when placing a bed in a room.
  4. Do not place tall furniture on soft floorings like carpet.
  5. Place light objects on the top and heavy objects on the bottom of bookshelves, cabinets, and cupboards.
  6. Avoid placing heavy furniture near doorways as 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 also to keep the danger in perspective. If you experience a significant earthquake, Japan is probably the best place to be. However, even in Japan, it is essential to prepare and think proactively to ensure the safety of your family and home during a disaster.

First, every family should have a 3-Day Family Emergency/Evacuation Kit readily available. Building one and maintaining it periodically is not difficult or expensive, and it could provide tremendous benefits in terms of 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
  •  Whistle
  •  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

What to do During an Earthquake

Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, which means that if you live here, you will experience an earthquake at some point. While most earthquakes in Japan are small, there is a high probability of a severe and damaging earthquake occurring in the future. Japan has a lot of experience dealing with tremors of varying degrees and has learned from past failures to become a leader in disaster preparedness and developing earthquake-resistant technologies.

The Government of Japan and local authorities have the expertise to build solid plans for their communities, and residents need to be familiar with their ward or city office’s programs. This includes knowing the closest evacuation point to their home. In addition to knowing the role of the government, all residents of Japan must also know their own role and be individually prepared for a large earthquake or other disasters. This means developing household emergency plans and procedures and ensuring all household members are familiar with them.

During an Earthquake While Indoors

If you are indoors during an earthquake, it is crucial to stay inside and not run outside or into another room during the shaking. Most earthquake-related injuries and deaths are caused by falling objects, collapsing walls, and flying glass. To reduce your risk of injury, follow these steps:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. HOLD ON to your shelter (or your head and neck) until the shaking stops. Be prepared to move with your shelter if the shaking shifts it around.

It is important to note that going outside during an earthquake is not recommended. For more information on why drop, cover, and hold on is recommended, visit

If you are in a specific location or situation, follow these additional steps:

  • In the kitchen: quickly turn off the stove and take cover at the first sign of shaking.
  • 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 in 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

Earthquakes can be very dangerous and can cause injuries or even death. Most of the injuries and deaths are caused by falling objects, collapsing walls, flying glass, or being knocked to the ground. Therefore, if you are outside when an earthquake strikes, you should follow these steps to stay safe:

  1. Assess the situation and stay where you are if it is safe to do so. It is safer not to move than to move.
  2. Move to an open area to avoid collapsing, flying, or falling objects.
  3. 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.
  4. Cover your head and neck with your arms and hands.

Remember that the most dangerous place to be during an earthquake is beneath the exterior walls of a building. This is because windows, facades, and other architectural details are often the first parts of the building to collapse. Therefore, 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

Please move your vehicle to the side of the road and stop as quickly as possible while ensuring your safety. It is important to avoid stopping under bridges, overpasses, signs, building overhangs, power lines, trees, or any other falling hazards. Also, avoid parking next to buildings as your car offers very little protection in case heavy objects fall on it. Once you have stopped, stay inside your vehicle and turn off the engine. Turn on your hazard lights and put your handbrake on. After the earthquake has stopped, proceed cautiously and avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake might have damaged. Anticipate traffic light outages and be extra careful while driving.

While in a Parking Garage

If you are in a car during an earthquake, exit the 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. Once the earthquake has stopped, proceed cautiously and avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake might have damaged.

If you are on a train or subway during an earthquake, 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 quake’s size, the train may resume service at a slower speed. Otherwise, it may be stopped in the tunnel, and you must follow the cabin crew’s instructions.

What to do After an Earthquake

After the Shaking Stops

  • It is crucial to remember that the disaster may continue after a major earthquake. Once the shaking has stopped, you should first check yourself for injuries and seek first aid before attempting to help other injured or trapped individuals.
  • To protect yourself from injury caused by broken objects, wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes, and work gloves.
  • Quickly inspect your home or office for damage and evacuate everyone if remaining is unsafe. Listen for updated OFFICIAL emergency information and instructions, and avoid falling prey to unfounded rumors.
  • Make brief calls only to report life-threatening emergencies. For other communication, send text messages.
  • After an earthquake, fire is the most common hazard. Therefore, look for and extinguish small fires. Clean up spilled medications, bleach, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately.
  • Be cautious when opening closet and cabinet doors, as contents may have shifted. Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines, and stay out of damaged areas. Avoid entering damaged buildings.
  • If you were away from home during the earthquake, 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 your friends and family know that you are safe. If necessary, utilize the 171 Emergency Line. NTT provides a voice message board service available during a disaster, such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

Aftershock Danger

It is crucial to remember that the disaster may not be over following a major earthquake. You should anticipate and prepare for potential aftershocks, landslides, or tsunamis. Whenever you feel an aftershock, immediately drop to the ground, take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture, and hold on until the shaking stops. Aftershocks can occur minutes, days, weeks, or even months after an earthquake and can be just as dangerous as the initial quake.

Tsunami Danger

If you reside in a low-lying area, being aware of the potential danger posed by a tsunami is crucial. Tsunamis are massive ocean waves triggered by significant earthquakes beneath the ocean floor. Tsunamis caused by nearby earthquakes can reach the coast within a few minutes. As the waves enter shallow water, they can 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, it’s important to know in advance where the designated safe areas are. Look for the sign indicating the safe area and follow it uphill immediately after the shaking stops following a major earthquake. Most areas in Japan have Tsunami warning systems that sound alarms, and information will be broadcast on TV and radio. You may even receive a warning directly to your mobile phone.

If a tsunami is on its way, the safest place is on naturally formed high ground, such as a hill or mountain, as far from the coastline as possible. If you can’t reach high ground, the roof of a tall, sturdy building will do. In Japan, schools tend to be secure, while small wooden houses are not.

Getting Information in English

Once you have ensured the physical safety of yourself and those around you to the best of your ability, staying informed about the situation is important. Keep an ear out for updates on local radio and television, and be prepared to follow any evacuation orders that may be issued for your area.

English Reporting on NHK TV

During natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, NHK Television is obligated to broadcast emergency reporting in English and other languages.

  • NHK  television channel 1
  • NHK  television channel 3

English Reporting on the US AFN Network

In addition to the areas mentioned earlier, you can listen to the US Armed Forces Radio Network (AFN) for English-language information.

  • 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

If you’re looking for reliable information in English about storms, earthquakes, or tsunamis, the Japan Meteorological Agency website is the most important site to know. The JMA is responsible for preventing and mitigating natural disasters, and they issue warnings and advisories related to earthquakes, weather, and tsunamis to the public.

Japan Meteorological Agency Website

Your Country’s Embassy or Consulate

Suppose you are a citizen of a foreign country residing in Japan. In that case, it is recommended that you contact your country’s embassy or consulate for specific information and instructions in case of a natural disaster, civil emergency, or any other unforeseen event. In an emergency, you can find links to your embassy or consulate’s website on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website.

List of Embassies, Consulates, and International Organizations in Japan

Other Websites

Cabinet Office, GOJ – Disaster Management in Japan
Aichi Prefecture Gov – Daily Living Information (Disaster Prevention)