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Be prepared for the ‘Big One’

by Angela Jeffs

‘How can we be prepared?’ BJ writes in the wake of the recent spate of earthquakes. “Our family is increasingly concerned about what we can do if an earthquake or some other calamity strikes. We live in an apartment. Will we be OK? What kind of resources are there and what should we do in case of a disaster?”

In terms of your apartment, check when it was constructed. The new building codes, particularly for buildings put up since Kobe was devastated by a terrible earthquake in 1995, are extremely stringent. Further measures to tighten up the certification of apartments followed the Aneha construction scandal of 2005, in which data on the ability of buildings to withstand quakes were falsified by architect Hidetsugu Aneha.

Next, make up a “three-day kit” — a bag packed with everything your family might need over a three-day period. This is generally the time it takes for systems to get back up and running.

The kit should contain food, water, medicine, a flashlight, radio, candles, matches and other basic essentials. In addition, lay aside a stash of cash to tide you over in case ATMs run out or are not functioning.

You also need to agree on a family meeting place in case you become separated. This could be a park or a school playground, for example.

When asked recently how she would get home to her family if a quake occurred while she was on a shopping trip in Tokyo, a Japanese neighbor looked surprised and said, well, she would drive. When it was pointed out that roads might well be blocked after a severe tremor, both with vehicles and people, she appeared quite nonplussed. The lesson here is: think ahead.

Finally, it is good to have a satellite telephone just in case. These days they are fairly inexpensive and even if all telephone and internet systems fail, this will allow you to make calls.

The best source of English-language information is the Far East Network or AFN at 810 AM in the Kanto area, 1575 AM in Aomori, Sasebo and Iwakuni, and 648 on Okinawa. Note that in other parts of Japan it broadcasts on a different band. If you have access, you can also find it online at www.yokota.af.mil/afn/.

Should there be an emergency, head for a “hinan jo,” or emergency shelter — generally a local school gymnasium, but sometimes a community center — and be prepared for assistance in Japanese only, with a futon for sleeping on and “onigiri” rice balls three times a day.

A couple of good resources: Disaster Preparedness Day at the Tokyo American Club is held every fall. This annual program organized by the club’s Women’s Group offers information from experts, with a panel discussion featuring representatives from the various embassies, city offices and so on. (TAC is not only for Americans; it welcomes all nationalities as members.) Details are online at www.tokyoamericanclub.org, or you can call (03) 4588-0381.

One of the best sources of information for American residents is the U.S. Embassy Web site at www.tokyo.usembassy.gov.

For other foreign nationals, inquire at your own embassy and — very important — don’t forget to sign on, so that officials have you listed with a current address and full contact details.

L iz notes that in Kanto people stand on the left on escalators and walk up on the right. Having arrived recently from the U.K., she is finding it hard to get used to.

“Maybe I should move to Kansai,” she jokes. “But is it really true that in Osaka they stand on the right and walk on the left, like in London? If so, why?”

Yes, it is true. But no one seems to know why. Any ideas?

Ken Joseph Jr., who directs the Japan Helpline at www.jhelp.com or on (03) 000-911, contributed to this column. Send your questions, queries, problems and posers to community@japantimes.co.jp.