Earthquake simulators have become tourist draws at disaster education centers nationwide, with a growing number of foreign visitors eager to learn about the hazards of life in a seismically active country.
With the number of foreign visitors rapdily surging, some of the centers have begun developing multilingual services.
In April, at the Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Center run by the Tokyo Fire Department, some 30 high school students from Australia experienced a simulated level-7 quake — the highest on the Japanese seismic intensity scale — similar to the March 2011 one that devastated the Tohoku region.
As the simulator began to rock, students were unable to stand and ducked under tables screaming.
It was the first day of a two-week school trip during which they would also visit sites including Kyoto and Hiroshima.
After the simulation, a teacher leading the group called it a valuable experience since earthquakes are ot as common in Australia. According to the teacher, it was the first time many of the students had ever felt such an intense jolt.
While nearly 74,000 people visited the facility in the year through March 2016, some 18,000 were foreign nationals — despite the center not taking any steps to promote it abroad, an official said.
“It seems visitors have been spreading the word through social-networking services,” the official added.
Similar facilities with disaster-simulation programs outside Tokyo have also been drawing a number of foreign tourists.
The number who visited the Sapporo Citizens Disaster Prevention Center in Hokkaido grew sixfold in 2016 from 2003, when the facility was opened.
The site even began a multilingual service in April 2015 that allows visitors to read the explanations of exhibited items in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean and Russian on smartphone screens.
Last fall, a South Korean television station broadcast a program featuring the Kyoto City Disaster Prevention Center, prompting voluntary disaster prevention organization members from the country to visit the facility.
Some have attributed the increased awareness of the simulators to the 2011 mega-quake and tsunami.
“Perhaps more people became interested in disaster prevention education in quake-prone Japan after seeing footage of the quake disaster and the reconstruction of the affected area,” said a facility official in the Kinki region.
A number of foreign travelers are also shifting the focus of their trips from shopping to gaining life experiences, which may have contributed to heightened interest in the centers.
In 2016, more than 24 million foreign tourists visited Japan, shattering the old record.