So there we were enjoying the performance from the Shimane Prefectural Police Band when the lights started flashing and we heard a loud rumbling sound. Everyone ducked throughout the rows of the theater, covering their heads, waiting like that as we listened to announcements from the staff. “Please stay as you are as we await instructions,” a woman’s voice said, and we behind her we overheard another staff member calmly confirm information over the phone. It was relayed to us in an orderly fashion, stating the magnitude of the earthquake and whether or not there was a tsunami warning. Moments later, as instructed, we walked out of the theater and outside to the evacuation zone, and watched as the firefighters entered the building to assess the situation, and later wheel a victim out on a stretcher.

This was not a real disaster. Rather, it was one of many disaster preparedness drills and training sessions done throughout Japan, throughout the year. Of course, this time of year has everyone especially aware of earthquake and tsunami safety.

Shimanekko‘s here to assure you everything’s okay, but check out these public service announcements anyway, nya!

I have experienced only one real earthquake here in the San’in region, and an app on my phone (like most people have) woke me up and alerted me far enough in advance that I had plenty of time to prepare for the incoming jolt that was about a level 3 or 4 on the Japanese scale–it was only one big jolt, as the epicenter was pretty far away. I didn’t have much to prepare at that moment, though–I wasn’t sleeping where anything but the ceiling could fall on me, and should it have proven more serious, my emergency kit was ready and I knew where my nearest evacuation centers would be. Furthermore, I had a pretty good idea what to expect if I needed to stay in one of those centers for a while, or what some of the risks following a large earthquake would be. In the seconds before the earthquake struck I wasn’t terribly worried, since I’ve had so many opportunities to prepare and make a mental plan for what to do.
EDIT (March 14, 2014): Within 72 hours of posting this entry, I experienced my second earthquake in this region, which went much like the first–woken up by an early alarm system with plenty of spare time to prepare, and this time the level 3 tremor carried on a little longer. Still doing fine!

I can’t stress enough, in any place around the world with any potential list of disasters, how crucial it is to be prepared and to practice how to respond. I hope all of you reading this have emergency kits and known and practice what to do, so I’ll spare you the lecture (but if you feel guilty because you don’t, please do yourself and your community a favor by finding out).

One of the things I appreciate about living in Japan is how much training they offer the general public, and I pity anyone who hasn’t gotten to ride an earthquake simulator! When you know you’re not in any real danger, it can be a lot of fun. Likewise, attending an overnight evacuation training program, or attending a concert knowing that there will be a drill are both good ways to enjoy yourself a bit while keeping fresh on emergency responses.

Granted, when I first heard about the concert, I mistakenly thought it would be a concert of songs about how to protect yourself and make an orderly evacuation, like the kind of thing I think I remember hearing once or twice when I was a kid. Instead, the band was in marching band uniform and had a wide array of instruments to do covers of everything from Disney medleys to medleys of 1970’s artists I’ve never heard of. They incorporated dancers and baton twirlers, too. The evacuation was much earlier in the concert than I expected, but that meant we got to relax for the remainder of it. Having a captive audience, however, the conductor did take that opportunity to make a public service announcement about bank fraud, and the closing number included some friendly reminders about traffic safety. The conductor even joined in with pom-poms at the very end for this one!

The Matsue Young Warrior Troupe pledges to protect the elderly from traffic accidents.

After that, my group went on to a short lecture about general earthquake safety and preparedness, which, unlike the other presentations I’ve seen on this topic, included video from experiments done following the Kobe earthquake to illustration what happens in a magnitude 7 (Japanese scale) earthquake with unsecured furniture. Even with dummies the results were not pretty, and even though I am satisfied with my current level of earthquake prep it made me consider where I might be a little lazy with it.

A reminder of daily items that turn dangerous in an earthquake.

Some items you should consider for your getaway bag.

This handbook is one of only many resources the prefecture has in place for foreign residents, and I imagine most prefectures have their own versions. The most recent new thing I’ve heard about is a phone bank system you can register for to receive and leave messages about your wellbeing following a disaster, and I think the system is multilingual.

Interpreters and emergency volunteers also keep up on their training and the community finds ways to help each other out, but you are your biggest and most immediate help in an emergency.

Finally, we wrapped up with some emergency food, which is specially produced to last for a long time and be prepared very simply. I’ve had various types, but this was my first time to try emergency oden, a dish of different vitamin and protein-filled Japanese style food items in a clear broth. It stays good for five years, and is prepared simply by sitting in boiling water for five minutes. I’ve never made oden myself, but I’ll make you a bet it tasted better than any attempt I could make.

I anticipate a moment of silence again at work today at 2:46pm.

I hope that all of you, dear readers, will acknowledge the third anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami by practicing what to do in an emergency and making sure the items in your emergency kit are up to date.