Japan is particularly prone to natural disasters. It’s a reality that’s hard to forget if you live in the country, as nature — and sometimes, human error — has a habit of reminding you of your vulnerability on a regular basis.
In the past few months alone, we’ve seen a volcano erupt off Kyushu, a nearly-monthlong forest fire in Tochigi, not to mention heavy snow that caused blackouts and an expressway pileup in northern Japan. And of course there was the 10th anniversary of the 3/11 triple disaster, which itself was bookmarked by big quakes this month centered on the same Tohoku region devastated in 2011.
So needless to say, some of Japan’s finest minds are always on the lookout for ways to minimize damage from future disasters, whether that means putting observation satellites into orbit or more shelter areas along expressways.
Each fresh disaster brings new lessons. When the Hanshin quake rocked western Japan in 1995, many foreign nationals without a good command of Japanese were unable to receive aid. Today, an online radio station in Kobe is delivering info about the coronavirus epidemic in a range of languages.
After quakes struck Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016, some people accompanied by pets were forced to stay in their cars after being turned away from shelters. The Environment Ministry is now preparing a checklist for municipalities aimed at making it simpler for locals to find out which shelters accept animals.
Rather than keep all this knowledge to itself, Japan is working on a project to create uniform global standards for efforts to prepare for natural disasters and mitigate risks. But as the API think tank notes, Japan isn’t perfect, and gaps in the loop here have left some lessons from the past unlearned. Reviews of disasters with the benefit of a decade of hindsight are needed, they say.