National

Japanese students and educators mark World Tsunami Awareness Day

Kyodo

Japanese students and educators at an event marking World Tsunami Awareness Day stressed the importance of preparing for disasters and urged people to think about and discuss what they should do in case such a catastrophe strikes.

At an event in the nation’s capital on Saturday, junior high school students from Iwate and Kochi prefectures discussed how they planned to evacuate in the event of an impending tsunami.

The students and educators, including university professors and a former local official in charge of disaster prevention, all noted that each individual should place weight on saving his or her own life first and foremost to ensure the survival of as many people as possible.

“The message is simple,” said Fumihiko Imamura, head of the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University. “Tsunami involves an imminent situation where one must escape immediately. The only way you can save your own life is by running away quickly.”

Students from Kamaishi junior high school in Iwate Prefecture who survived the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, explained the concept of Tsunami tendenko, which urges people to think of their own safety when trying to escape a tsunami.

They were joined via video link by students from Ogata junior high school and Saga junior high school in the town of Kuroshio, Kochi Prefecture. A tsunami of over 34 meters is forecast to possibly hit the town, which lies along Shikoku’s south eastern coast, in the event of a mega-quake in the Nankai Trough. They too said people should protect their own lives first in such instances.

While disaster prevention has been introduced at schools across Japan, Masashi Suenaga, who formerly worked on promoting disaster prevention for the Kamaishi municipal government, said it is difficult to educate adults.

Mai Ogasawara, a sophomore at Gunma University who was a junior high school student in Kamaishi when the 2011 tsunami struck, said there are differences in the way she and her parents think about disaster preparedness.

“We have been educated about disaster prevention, so we have a certain degree of awareness in terms of how we should escape when a tsunami comes,” she said. “But my parents had not experienced a tsunami (before March 2011) and had not gone through disaster prevention education, so I think they were less aware about disasters.”

Ogasawara said she herself barely escaped the March 2011 tsunami. She said she had to quickly flee to higher ground, spending the first night at an evacuation center without knowing if her family was safe.

“I can really understand that parents would worry about their children,” said actress Yuri Nakae, who participated in the event. “But there were cases in which they were unable to escape because they went to look for their children.”

“Children and parents must build mutual trust on a daily basis based on the idea of each protecting their own lives because they are thinking so much about each other. It is important to make time to discuss these things, not just at schools, but also at home and other places,” she said.

Tohoku University’s Imamura said it is important to know about the dangers presented by a tsunami and learn about their impact based on past events. But even more vital, he said, is for people to observe their environment so as to be able to make the right decision based on the situation at hand.

Similar events to promote awareness about tsunami disasters and evacuation drills were also held in various other parts of the country, including other prefectures affected by the 2011 quake-tsunami disaster and Wakayama Prefecture in western Japan.

A U.N. resolution last December declared Nov. 5 as World Tsunami Awareness Day. U.N. officials were inspired to do so by the Inamura no Hi anecdote involving a villager in what is now Wakayama Prefecture who in 1854 warned his community of an approaching tsunami by setting fire to his rice sheaves.

The 5th of November had already been designated by the Japanese government as tsunami disaster prevention day.

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