Tips to Stay Safe in an Earthquake or Tsunami – in Japan and other countries

by | Apr 16, 2022 | Japan Live Work and Play, Live Work Play Travel, Safe Travel | 8 comments

Get under a table during an earthquake

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When you go on vacation, it’s usually because you want to escape the drudge of day-to-day life and do something new and exciting. People don’t usually expect that “new and exciting” thing to be a natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami. The good news is that the chances of you experiencing an earthquake or tsunami in Japan at the exact time you choose to visit are pretty low, but the chances aren’t zero. Fortunately, even ten minutes’ worth of preparation will have you in a pretty good place to face any challenges that might come your way. With that in mind, here are some things that you can do in case an earthquake or tsunami strikes while you’re on holiday in Japan. Or other countries that can be affected.


Start Preparing for an Earthquake or Tsunami While Packing Your Bags


Before you even set foot on a plane, packing just a few emergency essentials can go a long way to making you feel safer and more prepared in case an earthquake or tsunami happens. These five measures aren’t good for just natural disasters, either; they’re the kind of thing you want to prepare any time you’re going on holiday.


1. Pack a Travel-Size First Aid Kit


While a first aid kit might not be as useful for more serious injuries, getting small cuts and scrapes from falling debris is very common. Even the most basic kit will allow you to disinfect such scrapes, which may seem like a small thing at the time – but even small injuries can cause a lot of trouble for you down the road if they get infected. Better to take care of such things as soon as you can with a handy-dandy first aid kit.


2. Cold, Hard Cash (Converted to Yen or other currencies)


This also applies as basic travel advice, because sometimes – especially during an emergency – you may find that your credit card is worthless, and you need to pay in cash. Exchange some of your home country’s currency into yen (about 10,000 yen should cover any basic, short-term emergencies) at your local bank or airport.


3. Rain Poncho


Japan just doesn’t do light sun showers, and it can rain at almost any time during the year. Pack a compact, travel-size poncho in your luggage – or, alternatively, stop at a local 100 yen shop upon arrival where they’re available for cheap.


4. Download Yurekuro Call, the Disaster Alert App


Japanese cell phones automatically receive notifications shortly before disaster strikes. To make sure that you get the same alert, download Yurekuro Call from either the AppStore or the Google Play Store. It won’t give you a lot of notice – usually only a few seconds – but it’s enough time to find a place to take cover. See what other disaster alert apps there are in the country you are travelling. In Australia I use the emergency app for the state I’m in. For instance, Vic Emergency app. This app alerts me to bushfires, floods and car accidents.


5. Have Travel Insurance


It goes without saying that having travel insurance will help to cover expenses if mishaps or accidents happen. Ensure you choose a policy that covers you for natural disasters. World Nomads has a number of travel insurance policies. 


Earthquake in Japan? Some Tips to Follow


If Inside And A Earthquake Occurs Cover Your Head And Take Cover.

Duck and Cover if caught inside during an earthquake


A lot of the rules you follow during an earthquake in Japan are no different from any other country. These are the basic rules you need to keep in mind:


1. Duck and Cover


One of the biggest dangers during a major earthquake comes from falling debris. To protect yourself, duck under a table or desk. Get into a crouching position and cover your head with one arm while you use your free hand to hold onto a table leg.

Other options are to stand in a doorway and brace your arms against the frame. Or, if you’re in bed, hide under your blanket and cover your head.


2. Stay Away from Big, Heavy Objects


If you can’t get under a table or in a doorway – or you’re outside and there simply aren’t any – make sure to stay away from big, heavy objects: bookcases, dressers, dish cabinets, etc. If they’re not properly secured to the wall, they could topple over and hit you, or dump whatever they’re holding on top of you.


3. Put on Some Slippers and Don’t Forget the Aftershocks


After a big earthquake occurs, there are often aftershocks, so don’t think you’re out of the woods once the main shock is over. If you’re not wearing them already, protect your feet by putting on shoes or slippers.

Be careful as you exit the building and stay away from walls and buildings. There’s a possibility of buildings collapsing, and you don’t want to be close to the fallout. Stick to the middle of the street as much as possible. If you feel an aftershock while you’re outside, crouch down and cover your head.


4. Get to an Evacuation Site


As a country that experiences frequent earthquakes, Japan has a lot of evacuation sites for people to go to during such times, usually parks, schools, and temples. If you’re in Tokyo, you can look up which evacuation site is closest to you on this map. Just use the drop-down menu for the ward that you’re in. This site also has a list of maps for other major cities, including Osaka and Fukuoka.


Can’t Forget about that Tsunami – How to Stay Safe if One’s Coming


Tsunami Evacuation Sign. Big Waves On A Sign With A Person Running.

Run to higher ground if a Tsunami is coming


To prepare for a tsunami, there are really two things to keep in mind: first, how to recognize that a tsunami is coming before it actually hits, and second, where to go to keep yourself safe.


1. If the Water Disappears, Run for the Hills


If you’re at a beach and the tide suddenly disappears, that is the number one warning sign that a tsunami is coming. However, unless you’re in Okinawa, you’re probably not on the beach. Most of Japan’s tourist attractions are further inland. Fortunately, the Yurekuro Call app mentioned above sends out warnings for all types of disasters, including tsunamis.


2. Avoid Rivers as Well


Japan is lined with rivers, and these can flood as well in the event of a tsunami. Because of that, you want to be sure to avoid rivers and bridges as much as possible.


3. Get to a Tsunami Evacuation Site or Whatever High Ground You Can Find


As mentioned, Japan has lots of evacuation sites – but not all are good for tsunamis since some are way too close to sea level. If a tsunami is happening, make sure to look for a tsunami-specific evacuation site, also called tsunami hinan basho (津波避難場所). If you’re not sure where the closest one is, just find the highest place you can get to. Bigger tsunamis can reach up to 10 meters in height, so you really have to prioritize “going higher” over “going farther.”


Final Words on Staying Safe During an Earthquake and Tsunami


While getting caught in a disaster is never fun, being prepared is the first step to increasing your chances of making it out okay. Having been through a few earthquakes and tsunami warnings myself, I know, when it happens, I think of the above tips and act accordingly. Have you been through an earthquake or tsunami? I’d love to hear in the comments following.



1 Month Japan Itinerary
Japan Working Holiday
Day Trip to Mount Fuji

Lady Under A Desk During An Earthquake PIN.
Map Of Japan Showing Earthquake and Tsunami Warnings.

Thanks for sharing!

Useful Travel Resources for Your Next Adventure!


Accommodation: Where Will You Sleep Tonight? If you want a bed in a hostel dorm find a great deal with HostelWorld. I mostly stay in hotels now, is my favourite site for booking hotels from budget to ‘I feel like splurging’. For something completely different I house and pet sitting through Trusted Housesitters – this has saved me thousands on accommodation, no joke!

Flights: I always head to Skyscanner first to find a cheap and flexible flight.

Car Rental: When I need to rent a car I turn to RentalCars.

Train Travel: I love riding the train rails and get the best value from raileurope. And Japan has a great one too – JapanRail Pass.

Bus Travel: Check out Busbud for bus tickets.

Pre-organised Tours: I’ve been on a few in my time with Contiki being my first and favourite. if you are 18-35 years of age you should check them out.

Jump-the-queue entrance tickets: I don’t enjoy standing in long queues which is why I book my entrance tickets and day trips in advance. My favourite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Travel Insurance. There are a number of reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without having bought a policy as you never know when something might happen. SafetyWing is great digital nomads and long-term travellers and World Normads has policies for general and adventure travel.


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Hi. Sharyn here. Savvy Australian female with a passion for travel and working abroad. I’m on a mission to provide you with my best tips, tricks and hacks to work abroad and travel the world. If I can do it, so can you!  Read more.


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  1. Shafinah

    “1. If the Water Disappears, Run for the Hills” Oh gosh this really gives me the chills because of how immediately visual it was for me! I never knew this was something to look out for but I’m definitely thankful to have come across this life-saving tidbit here!!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      When we travel we never know what might happen. But knowledge is power and with knowledge of what to do during an earthquake or tsunami hopefully you will have the knowledge to know what to do to help protect yourself from serious injury or worse. Happy to have provided you with this safety tidbit – it was the recent earthquake in Japan that prompted this post.

  2. Renee

    Pretty scary stuff when you think about living or travelling there to be prepared for one. Thanks for the tips.

  3. kmf

    These are helpful and life-saving tips on what to do during an earthquake or tsunami in Japan. A great resource I hope I never need to reference. Great info!

  4. Emma

    Very helpful article and one that I think everyone should read and be aware of before travelling somewhere with a risk of these kinds of things. Thanks for sharing!

    • Sharyn McCullum

      It is always a good thing to be aware of potential risks you could encounter on a holiday – but you hope you never do!


    Thank you for this helpful post. The thought of downloading the emergency apps of specific countries never came to my mind.

  6. Jasmina

    I see some helpful tips here. I live in area where earthquakes are pretty common so this is good to know! It is also helpful for times when I travel as you never know what will happen. Thank you for sharing!


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