Today is the annual “bosai no hi” in Japanese, or Disaster Prevention Day / Disaster Preparation Day. It is the anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that destroyed Tokyo and Yokohama, killing over 100,000 people and leaving scars on the cityscapes that were not repaired until post WWII reconstruction. I guess tomorrow schools will practice their earthquake evacuation drills. Fire Departments hold demonstrations in parks of fire-fighting techniques. They also roll out their earthquake simulators for people to experience various magnitudes of shaking in a mock-up of a kitchen mounted on the back of a flat bed truck. It's serious business even though many young people look at the simulators as a kind of amusement park fun ride. In front of the media the national police and the military rehearse large-scale civilian rescue and evacuation drills in various locations. Train and subway operators practice between-station carriage evacuation procedures. And so on. Everyone is reminded to have an emergency kit at home, stocked with a few days’ supply of necessities. The Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 reminded us of the advantage of having one. Batteries, water, candles and matches or lighters, flashlights, toilet paper, charged cell phone and blankets are really handy, not to be taken for granted.
Like a school fire drill in Canada, schools here customarily practice their disaster drills only two or three times a year. Once at the beginning of the school year (in the spring), once on or around Disaster Day, and then (maybe) one other time as well. Of course the decision to hold such drills belongs to the school principals, so any number of rehearsals is possible, at the principals' discretion.
Some schools require students to keep a safety helmet at school for protection from falling objects during an earthquake disaster. Putting them on and lining up to calmly vacate the building are part of the drill. Many schools, especially elementary schools, require only some kind of fire-resistant padded hood or head covering, which the children can keep on or under their desk chairs as a kind of cushion.
Many public schools with their gymnasiums and open playgrounds, are designated as disaster evacuation areas for their neighborhoods. Signs announcing the locations of local emergency evacuation zones are a common sight in neighborhoods throughout the country. That's where people will gather for information, assistance, shelter, etc., much as happened in the northern Tohoku area after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Many public parks have buried water cisterns for emergency use - hygiene, cooking, and fire-fighting. Fire fighting especially. In 1923 the majority of buildings in Japan were made of wood, and the majority of homes cooked over open fires. - hibatchis, which North Americans know only as a barbecue but which Japanese traditionally used for cooking as well as heating. The earthquake at that time struck at noon hour when housewives were preparing the mid-day meal and the collapse of buildings (which also happened in Kobe at the time of the Great Kansai Earthquake in January 1995). That plus the density of the urban landscape contributed to huge fires. There are horrific stories of three-day cyclonic fire storms that consumed large areas of the two metropolises. Fleeing refugees' clothes spontaneously burst into flame. Refugees seeking safety and relief in rivers were boiled alive by the encroaching bonfire.
There was also xenophobic hysteria that contributed to the massacre of up to 10,000 Korean residents who were rumored to be poisoning drinking wells. This year the conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking flak for its decision to recall school textbooks that dare to mention of the massacre of foreign residents. Japanese don't like negative information, especially in textbooks aimed at impressionable youngsters. So governments regularly meddle with school curricula. To the constant chagrin of Korea and China Japanese school textbooks are regularly cleanses of references to past wartime atrocities. I can't say, however, that Canada or America are any better at educating their people.
Due to the frequency of typhoons, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions Japanese have traditionally thought of their country as disaster-prone, or whipped by Mother Nature. So living here requires a degree of resignation to various acts of God:
But none of these mean that this is not a good place to live.