National

78% of older teenagers in Japan anxious about natural disasters, survey says

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Some 77.6 percent of people in Japan aged 17 to 19 feel “anxious” about natural hazards and major disasters, according to findings in a recent online survey of 800 young people.

In February, Tokyo-based think tank The Nippon Foundation asked teenagers across the nation how they feel about natural disasters, ahead of the eighth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that killed at least 15,897 and left more than 2,500 unaccounted for in March 2011.

“Now that Japan is preparing to lower the (legal) age of adulthood from 20 to 18 in 2022, 18-year-olds will be expected to play more active roles in society, and we wanted to find out whether they’re aware of various issues, including disaster preparedness,” Orie Sakamoto, a researcher at the think tank, said in a phone interview.

Of the 621 respondents who said they feel anxious over disasters, 68.9 percent cited the country’s susceptibility to calamities as a factor.

Sakamoto said that last year’s string of large-scale natural disasters has further fueled that fear, with 38.5 percent of respondents citing the fact that natural disasters have hit Japan more often recently as the cause of their anxiety. Multiple answers were allowed.

However, Sakamoto, who is in charge of the project, said the results showed that young people lack critical knowledge about how to protect their lives in the event of a disaster.

In the survey, just 42.3 percent of the teenagers had an emergency kit prepared and only 41.4 percent of respondents knew that in an emergency they could use the Dial 171 disaster message board.

A majority of the respondents found education about disaster preparedness and related risks helpful in times of disaster.

Of the 376 who had experienced disasters firsthand, 71 percent said that what they had learned at school was useful.

Some respondents, for instance, cited their evacuation following the Tohoku quake on March 11, 2011, as a time when they put that knowledge into practice.

The survey also asked respondents to offer comments.

Several suggested that drills don’t prepare them for all scenarios, such as what to do if a disaster occurs while they are commuting. Others said their schools did not conduct emergency drills at all.

Sakamoto said the results show that young people believe there is still much to be done to improve disaster response.

“Around 80 percent of the respondents said they believed the country was not well prepared to handle massive disasters, and in comments they suggested that such disaster management policies aren’t working,” Sakamoto said.

“It appears that even 18-year-olds think that there’s room for improvement in response to disasters. The teenagers’ responses may be reflecting their thoughts on Japan’s handling of disasters that battered” the country last year, she said, referring to strong earthquakes in Osaka and Hokkaido, torrential rain in western Japan and a powerful typhoon that triggered floods in Kansai, along with record-high temperatures over the summer.