Language

Words to live by: The vocabulary of evacuation

by Kaori Shoji

Contributing Writer

Typhoon Hagibis, known here as 台風19号 (taifū jyūkyūgō, typhoon No. 19) because Japan numbers its storms instead of naming them, tore through the archipelago and had claimed 84 lives as of Oct. 24 according to state broadcaster NHK.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared Hagibis a “激甚災害” (“gekijin saigai,” “major disaster”), a term that authorizes the government to provide economic support to victims. 気候変動が続くと台風はより強くなると言われている (Kikō hendō ga tsuzuku to taifū wa yori tsuyoku naru to iwarete-iru, It’s said that typhoons will become stronger as climate change continues), so learning the vocabulary used during an emergency is becoming more and more of a necessity.

Disaster experts believe deaths can be avoided if people first and foremost obey the 避難指示 (hinan shiji, evacuation notices) that are issued by local and regional governments during a catastrophic 災害 (saigai, disaster). These notices are, in effect, orders, even though the Japanese government legally can’t “order” citizens to do things. Make no mistake, though, if a 避難指示 has been issued, disaster is coming. Less severe is a 避難勧告 (hinan kankoku, evacuation advisory), but some experts recommend you ready yourself to leave as soon as the announcement for the slightly less urgent 避難準備 (hinan junbi, evacuation preparations) is broadcast over your local loudspeakers.

Once you hear, “避難の準備をして下さい” (“Hinan no junbi o shite kudasai,” “Please prepare to evacuate”), get all your 貴重品 (kichōhin, valuables) ready in a backpack and make sure you have a flashlight. If your area is in imminent danger, the local government may send buses and trucks to come around and pick up people who don’t have access to cars, live alone or are injured. Ideally, you should already be on your way to the 避難所 (hinanjo, evacuation shelter) at about the same time as the 避難指示 is issued.

If you happen to be near the 海岸 (kaigan, coastline) or a 河川 (kasen, river), bear in mind that when a large typhoon strikes, 水位 (suii, water levels) can rise much faster than you think. If you hear the term “堤防決壊” (teibō kekkai, river banks being destroyed), be warned that this can lead to 洪水 (kōzui, flooding) and entire neighborhoods submerged in 泥水 (doromizu, muddy sludge), so it’s definitely time to run. Be aware of where your local 避難所 is before disaster strikes, but if you’re new to the area then remember the phrase, “避難所はどこですか” (“Hinanjo wa doko desu ka?,” “Where is the evacuation shelter?”).

The “避” (“hi“) in “避難所” can also be read as “sa” in “避ける” (sakeru), meaning “to avoid.” A different “hi” is used in 被害 (higai, damage) and 被災者 (hisaisha, victim of natural disaster). This other “hi” means “to bear the brunt of.” As both are pronounced “hi” and used in quite similar situations, the “hi” thing can get a little confusing if they pop up in the same sentence: 台風の被害を受けたので、避難所に行きました (Taiƒū no higai o uketa node, hinanjo ni ikimashita, Due to damages received from the typhoon, I went to an evacuation shelter).

Speaking of things being confusing, there was some criticism on social media around the time of Hagibis about how the language of disaster can be overly formal and difficult to understand, even for native Japanese speakers. 緊急避難指示が発令されました (Kinkyū hinan shiji ga hatsurei saremashita, Emergency evacuation orders have been issued) is a bit of a mouthful compared to the simpler and more urgent, 今すぐ避難して下さい (Ima sugu hinan shite kudasai, Please evacuate right now). Both sentences are saying the same thing, but the latter feels sharper and more effective.

People also commented that news reports were vague about Hagibis’ 上陸 (jōriku, landing) and whether or not it would be a 直撃 (chokugeki, direct hit). 台風が関東地方に上陸しました (Taifū ga Kantō chihō ni jōriku shimashita, The typhoon has made landfall in the Kanto region) and 台風が関東地方を直撃しました (Taifū ga Kantō chihō o chokugeki shimashita, The typhoon scored a direct hit on the Kanto region) may seem like the same thing, but an arrival and a direct strike will have different consequences.

On the other hand, coverage of the typhoon’s 進路 (shinro, course) was very precise, giving everyone plenty of time to prepare for what was coming. I heard one story of a wedding that was scheduled for 3 p.m. on the day of the typhoon’s arrival being moved up to 9 a.m. at the last minute. Since public transportation was scheduled to be halted from noon, the guests hurried to the venue, attended the function and rushed to the station to get home before being stranded.

Thankfully, there was no 停電 (teiden, blackout) to ruin the festivities, but a few hours later the 気象庁 (Kishōchō, Meteorological Agency) issued a 大雨洪水警報 (ōame kōzui keihō, heavy rains and flooding alert) for the Tokyo metropolitan area. Let’s hope the bride and groom can get a real honeymoon when typhoon season is over.

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