Monday, September 27, 2010

Earthquakes, Typhoons, Tsunamis and Volcanoes- A part of life in Japan

Japan is located in such a geographical zone that Natural hazards are aplenty. You name it and you have it, Earthquakes, Tsunamis , Typhoons !

Coming from India, for me the word earthquake is synonymous with destruction and havoc. My first earthquake experience in life was the tremors of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake . I remember seeing the news reports on television showing videos and  pictures of the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake back then.

I had studied back in school that Japan is prone to earthquakes because it is situated in a volcanic zone. There is constant movement in the tectonic plates beneath Japan because it is located on an area where 4 tectonic plates are connected to each other. As a result of this Japan is prone to frequent low magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean. I recently read on the internet that as many as 1500 earthquakes are recorded yearly and most of these measure between 4.0 and 6.5 on the Richter scale. Minor tremors can be felt almost everyday and can be sensed only by instruments. Human beings can sense the tremors only if the intensity is high.

A week after we moved to Japan, an acquantaince casually asked if we had felt the tremors since we moved here. We said not yet . He then went on to tell us that we should be aware of the minor tremors happening all the time and should not panic. He said at times the feeling is similar to sitting in a rocking chair or still better in a ship caught in a storm. For the next two days I could think of nothing but earthquakes and was being too alert . Nothing happened and I gradually forgot about the tremors.

Our first earthquake experience in Japan was on 13th June 2010. We were in Misaki park in Iwaki and enjoying a nice barbecue lunch with a group of friends. We were seated on the lawn and enjoying the food . At about 12.30 pm I felt the earth shaking and told my husband. He and the others also had felt them. But no one panicked and went about eating and chatting. The tremors lasted for about 5 minutes. But there seemed to be no impact on anyone. After the barbecue was over and we got home I checked for the earthquake on the internet. I found that the tremors we had felt were due to a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that had occurred  some 65 kms from Iwaki. However there were no casualities and no injuries that were reported. My husband’s colleagues who live in apartments told the next day that a few things had falled off the shelves and they felt the buildings swaying. But that was it. No more mention of the earthquake and life goes on. Since then we have experienced tremors few more times but no one even talks about these tremors. We have now realized that Earthquakes are a part of life and unless there is devastation no one even bothers about them.

How can people feel safe living in a country where such tremors are common? This is one question I always had. Now that I am here, I know. Every thing in this country is tested for earthquake safety. Buildings are tested for earthquakes the moment the number of storeys exceed a certain limit. Due to such frequent earthquakes , Japan is now the world leader in predicting and analyzing earthquakes. They have developed advanced technology which has benefited the construction industry and as such we get to see so many skyscrapers in this earthquake prone country. The homes here are constructed with special techniques and the foundation of the home is not very deep. The home building here can be compared to building with Lego blocks . I have seen homes being built around our home- the construction activity lasts only a few weeks.

Every hotel in Japan also has earthquake safety measures in place and warning and detailed instructions are provided in the hotel room. 

Tsunamis are frequent too because of undersea earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean. Every seaside park or public place has a Tsunami evacuation area earmarked and also the evacuation instructions.The news channels provide Tsunami forecasts as and when some Tsunami is expected.  

Occasional volcanic activity can be felt in the islands too. Since Japan is situated on a volcanic zone, there are numerous hot springs all over Japan . These have been exploited for commercial purposes and that is why there are so many natural hot water spas all over the country. Infact , Onsens ( Japanese for hot water spring) are a popular tourist and leisure destination.

If you thought this was it, then hold on. There is more to come- Japan also has its share of typhoons.
Most of these typhoons occur between May and November which is called the Pacific Typhoon when tropical depressions are formed.

One recent Typhoon to hit Japan was Typhoon Dianmu which caused disruption of life in China and to an extent in South Korea. There were heavy rains in south Japan but the typhoon made a landfall in the north of Japan with hours of  arriving in Japan. As such there was not much impact of Dianmu in Japan.

Our latest typhoon experience was during this weekend. We woke up on Friday to see that it had rained all night and the rains and strong wind continued through the day. On Saturday too, the rain and wind continued. But like the typical Japanese climate, the scenario changed suddently. At around 5 pm in the evening, it was bright and sunny with not a trace of cloud.  

So common and recurring are these natural disasters that the locals dont seem to worry about these at all and life goes on. It is all about being prepared for these natural phenomena in such a way that these become a part of daily life.

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