Japan is well-known as a country fraught with natural disasters, especially earthquakes, so there is a lot of emphasis on preparedness. Evacuation locations and procedures are very systemized, and throughout the year there are many official disaster training exercises for disaster response professionals and for the general community.

Shimane is no different in that respect, but the San’in region is not as disaster prone as other areas. Seismic activity is relatively low (I have yet to experience an earthquake), and typhoons coming off the Pacific Ocean usually turn into normal rain by the time they hit this area. There are occasional flooding problems and blizzard conditions, but they’re not terribly frequent.

Nevertheless, I do have a basic evacuation kit prepared (which anyone in any place around the world should!), and I try to take part in training sessions both for my own benefit and for the professionals who keep their skills sharp by working with human rescue subjects. While there are smaller training events at the local level, last fall I took part in the prefecture-wide training event in Hamada City, out in western Shimane.

You could watch the helicopter view on some of the TVs.

Besides watching the fire truck maneuvering drills and helicopter rescues over the harbor, I got to ride in an earthquake simulator, go through a smoke tunnel, use a fire extinguisher, and try out emergency food, such as canned bread. My main purpose for being there was to be an injured person who spoke no Japanese and was trapped “inside” a partially collapsed building.

The “building” I was trapped behind–it’s not pictured here, but a car was crashed into it, and they needed to cut open holes in the walls before they could get to us–not to mention rescue the victim in the car.

After the rescue team found me, they brought me to the area the Red Cross and Shimane International Center supporters had set up, where they gave me a blanket and got some basic information from me and treated my “injured” arm. After that, I was loaded into an evacuation vehicle with some of the other evacuees, and we made our escape from the disaster area.

Despite the perilous conditions, we all managed to keep a sense of humor.

But after you evacuate the danger area, where do you go? That’s where the Matsue city level training picked up last weekend. For the third year in a row, the members of the Japanese community and the foreign community came together for an overnight experience at one of the city’s several designated evacuation centers. We had participants from about ten different countries.

Our dinner that night consisted of rice prepared in special individual serving bags, and vegetarian stew prepared by the local women’s association. Breakfast was made up other individual serving items with long shelf lives. At least as far as our locale is concerned, you can expect to be fed for as long as you are stuck in an evacuation center. However, I have food in my personal emergency kit anyway–and so should you!

Filling emergency-use rice bags
Ready for the rice cooker
Thank you, volunteers!

Yum, chocolate flavored Calorie Mate!

Normal Calorie Mate (the biscuit in the yellow box) has a shelf life of about a month. This emergency Calorie Mate has a shelf life of about three years.


Here’s some of that canned bread again, as well as special seaweed rice you just need to add water to. The resealable bag doubles as a bowl, and there is a spoon inside. If you add cold water it takes about an hour to be ready, but if you had hot water it only takes about twenty minutes. Surprisingly filling! Not only is this good in emergencies, but the package even suggests taking it on camping trips and trips abroad.

When it came time to figure out the sleeping arrangement, we were asked to do an experiment first to see how we could try to fit everyone in a confined space. Unsurprisingly, we weren’t very good at.

Evacuation Center, Matsue

We then moved worked together to build partitions for a little extra privacy, as well as cardboard toilets (although thankfully the indoor plumbing was still working just fine at this particular evacuation). The partitions we used at this center were of a cardboard and plastic variety, but there are other varieties in use elsewhere.

Building evacuation center partitions

There were also training sessions for performing CPR and using AEDs and using fire extinguishers, as well as a fire truck demonstration from Matsue’s northern fire station.

CPR training--the first step is to try to wake up the patient.

Fire fighting hose, with adjustable spray.
119 is the emergency telephone number in Japan.

Thank-you to all of the volunteers who came together to make this training session a success, and huge thank-you to all of the emergency response personnel around the world. Your work is greatly appreciated!

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