Disaster Preparedness in Japan - How to Pack an Emergency Bag for a Little Peace of Mind

Nationwide Culture Earthquakes 2020.05.31
Japan is known for frequent earthquakes and typhoons, and even the occasional tsunami. When early May brought 2 earthquakes in 2 days, I knew it was time to finally put together my own emergency kit.
  • While most of the earthquakes felt in Japan every day are weak tremors that residents barely notice, we never know when a big one will hit, so disaster preparedness is fostered in children from a young age. Schools, offices, department stores, you see fire drills and practice evacuations everywhere, because everyone can see the importance of being prepared.

    I myself haven't been in Japan for all that long, but even in this short time I've been able to see how seriously disaster preparedness is taken here. As a student in language school, there were special sessions multiple times a year, which included standard fire drills and special emergency Japanese practice. They made sure we had the phone numbers for the fire department (119) and police (110) memorized, and that we had the vocabulary to at least tell them our own address and phone number. Because if a real emergency occurred, it was important that we could inform the authorities and get help!

    I've also noticed how most homes keep an emergency kit! Of course, everyone has different needs, and if I packed everything I saw recommended, I would be carrying thousands of items. So I took the advice under consideration and put together an emergency bag of my own, and shared the contents with you here.
  • ① The Bag
    ① The Bag
    You can buy fully packed emergency kits, but if that's the route you want to go, you can just stop reading here! If you'd prefer to put together your own kit, I recommend you pack your things in an old backpack. If you have one that doesn't get much use anymore, that would be perfect. Bonus points if your bag is bright and colorful, making it easy to see in case of an emergency.
  • This is what a pre-packed emergency kit looks like.
  • ② Flashlights
    ② Flashlights
    Flashlights big and small, with chargers and batteries - perhaps even a hand crank for extra peace of mind. I particularly like this flashlight with a built-in radio, so you listen to the news even if the power is out or you're stuck outside. It can also be used as a power bank to charge devices if necessary! There's even a signal mode if you need to call for help. At around 3,000 yen, I thought it was a pretty good deal.
  • ③ Gloves
    ③ Gloves
    Disasters can mean burning buildings and broken glass, so a sturdy pair of gloves is always a good idea. You can get simpler pairs, but these ones are waterproof and heat-resistant.
  • ④ Important Documents
    ④ Important Documents
    Passports, bank books, certificates and diplomas, plus your Japanese hanko stamp. Even if you don't store these in your emergency bag at all times, make sure you know exactly where your important documents are so you can grab them and go if you need to evacuate. What you definitely should store in the emergency bag is paper copies of all the original documents!
  • ⑤ A Comfortable Change of Clothes
    ⑤ A Comfortable Change of Clothes
    If you end up running out of the house in pajamas, you'll be very glad you packed some clothing to change into. Of course, Japanese winters are chilly and the summers are humid and hot, so it's a good idea to have a couple options that work in different temperatures. Don't forget to pack up a few changes of underwear and socks, and a towel is always a good idea.
  • ⑥ First Aid
    ⑥ First Aid
    I kept it fairly simple and packed some basic painkillers, anti-allergy meds, and medicine for stomach discomfort. For good measure, though, I added hand sanitizer in case there's nowhere to wash hands, and some heat packs (good for cramps and great on cold winter days)!
  • ⑦ Space Blankets
    ⑦ Space Blankets
    Japan gets cold in the winter and Japanese apartments have terrible heating and insulation, so anyone living here already knows you need to wrap up warm to keep from freezing. If you're stuck somewhere without a heater (or even outside), space blankets are a compact way to retain warmth.
  • ⑧ Multitool with Knife & Hammer
    ⑧ Multitool with Knife & Hammer
    Earthquakes can mess with structures in unexpected ways, and it's not impossible for doors to be jammed shut by the pressure. I don't plan on getting trapped in my house, so I picked up this handy multitool that has a hammer alongside the other useful tools, which can break the glass in a window. (I'd definitely be wearing those gloves, though!)
  • ⑨ Emergency Toilet Bags
    ⑨ Emergency Toilet Bags
    If the water gets turned off for some reason, the last thing you want is to be worrying about a flushing toilet. These bags are made specifically for that purpose, and can trap both waste and odors when the toilet isn't working.
  • ⑩ Portable Water Tank
    ⑩ Portable Water Tank
    When the water stops flowing, many people in Japan prepare by storing water in a clean bathtub. Some apartments and houses lack a tub, however, any in the case of an evacuation that's no longer a practical solution. So a fillable tank comes in handy. This one holds 10 liters, enough to keep you going for a few days if necessary.
  • Of course, there are plenty of more personal things to pack, which are likely to vary from person to person. Skincare items, pens and notebooks, some people might even be interested in this drinking water that they say can safely be stored for years.
  • Whistles seem like they could only come in handy in pretty dire situations, but if it comes to that you might just be happy to have them.
  • Along with the emergency water, some people pack special emergency food packets as well. This stuff is specially made to last for years, like the water, but I choose to just put a little bit of normal packaged, shelf-stable food in my bag instead, since I check it every year anyway.
If you come from somewhere that's pretty safe from natural disasters, or at least earthquakes (like I do!) then this kind of emergency bag might seem like overkill. This article isn't meant to scare you, but it can't hurt to be prepared! Safety first!

If disaster strikes while you're in Japan, you can find more information and advice in English here:

Japan Meteorological Agency
(The JMA is the clearest source of accurate tracking when it comes to natural disasters. They have pages listing the most recent earthquakes, and typhoon tracking maps.)
Japan National Tourism Organization Safety Tips
NHK World News (Japanese Public Broadcasting)
The U.S. Embassy in Japan / British Embassy / Australian Embassy / Canadian Embassy / (Or your embassy!)
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