Experiencing Earthquakes in Japan


Last Friday afternoon, the western part of Japan experienced an earthquake measuring a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter Scale. The quake didn’t cause much damage and there wasn’t any loss of life, but it certainly made for an exciting couple of minutes. Since moving to Hatsukaichi this year, I’ve had been fortunate to have endured two of them. The other was the one in Kumamoto Prefecture earlier this year, that made global news. Maybe it’s a warning sign from the gods. Anyway, I’m not one that falls into a frantic state of panic, so while the teachers and students quickly hid under their desks, I remained in my chair and amazed at what was going on. It never occurred to me that there was a possibility of the school being swallowed into the pits of hell. It was an entertaining interlude to an pretty ordinary afternoon.

Of course being British, the concept of an earthquake is one that I’ve only studied. My geography lessons in secondary school followed case studies of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and San Francisco’s in 1989 to explain the impact of natural disasters. That’s not to suggest that England doesn’t suffer the odd shake, but nothing of the magnitude felt in Japan or in California. I recall once getting ready for school in the morning, when my mother asked if I had felt the earthquake the previous evening. I blankly stared, trying to determine if it was a genuine question. When I did get to school it was the only thing anyone was talking about. So it’s fair to say that I’m still a newbie when it comes to earthquakes, aside from what I’ve read in book.

Unbeknownst to me, Japan rarely acknowledges the magnitude scale. Instead it uses the JMA Seismic Intensity Scale (similar to the Meracalli scale), which designates a ranking based on intensity rather than size. The highest rank is a 7 which involves the ground cracking, the countries infrastructure grinding to a halt and the arrival of Godzilla. Last week’s earthquake measured around 3 or 4 here in the Hiroshima area, whilst it was 6 nearer the epicentre. My experience was limited to shaking clocks and the odd files or books falling from shelves, the work of a poltergeist. 

With the precarious geographical and meteorological nature of Japan, the country is well-prepared for most disasters. It’s a nation that has been learning from its past tragedies and developing new technologies and methodology towards them. For example; earthquakes, tsunamis and landslides will immediately activate an alarm system that is sounded through everyone’s mobile phones. It’s a nifty system, though it’s all in Japanese which was slightly worrying the first time. Gas is mostly supplied to housing via stand-alone tanks instead of dedicated gas pipes. Skyscrapers and other buildings, like my schools, have structural reinforcements and measures that mitigate the likelihood of collapse after a sudden jolt.However the abundance of overhead power lines doesn’t strike a sense of safety if a serious earthquake was to occur.  It’s all very efficient, co-ordinated and reassuring (except for the power lines). 

The day after the quake, Japan continued as though nothing had happened. Earthquakes occur on a regular basis, so you just get used to them. Mind you, the screaming/ panic never really wanes. In fact, if you check the “Earthquake Information” tab of the Japanese Meteorological Office, there’s bound to have been one just a couple of minutes ago. Exciting stuff.