Earthquakes Are Kind of a Thing in Japan

Mikaela Breese
May 26, 2015

I would like to start off this post by making it clear that before I came to Japan, I had never once experienced an earthquake before. I am from Chicago and I go to school in the Midwest where we rarely ever have earthquakes. I think there has been only one in my area in my entire life and I didn’t even feel it; the only reason I knew it happened was because everyone freaked out over social media about it.

Japan, however, is the polar opposite of the Midwest. About 1,500 earthquakes happen in Japan every year. Nearly every day there are minor tremors, although a lot of them are so small they can’t even be felt. The other day, however, I felt the biggest earthquake ever since coming to Japan. It was a 5.6 in magnitude in Saitama where it originated but dropped to a 4.0 by the time it hit us in Chiba.

What happened was that I was sitting in class in the IES building, which is a tall office building. We were in the middle of a lecture when all of the sudden my professor’s phone started beeping and going “Jishin, jishin!” I had just enough time to translate that to “earthquake” in my head when all of the sudden the room started shaking. And I’m not just saying that the desks and chairs rattled a bit; the entire ROOM was moving. Buildings in Japan are built with isolation bases so there are sliding units at the bottom that allow the buildings to sway without breaking in half. Unfortunately, we were on the 15th floor where the buildings sway more so we felt the earthquake much worse than people on lower floors. I had friends who were on the 3rd floor at the time and they said it took them a bit to even realize there was an earthquake going on. For those of us on the 15th floor though, it felt like a very bad amusement park ride. All of us were very shaken up afterwards so the teacher let us have a 15 minute break to calm down. Typically the alarm system would have been faster but since Saitama is fairly close to Tokyo (and also Chiba), the earthquake literally just happened too fast for the emergency system to provide a better warning.

Now, I didn’t write this post with the intention of scaring people away from Japan or causing my parents to fear for my safety in Japan. On the contrary, Japan is extremely well-prepared to handle earthquakes since it deals with so many every year. People everywhere immediately get notified of a major earthquake (I believe it has to be over 3.5 in magnitude to merit a warning) either through their smartphones or some kind of public announcement. The buildings here are all built according to strict regulations so that they can handle very strong earthquakes; even with a 5.6 earthquake no damage was recorded. Also, trains here immediately stop once an earthquake is detected to prevent damage and the chance of a train running off the track. There were a lot of delays yesterday with the trains because they wanted to check and make sure there was no damage to any of the train lines.

So although earthquakes can be a terrifying experience (especially if you’ve never felt one before), Japan is well-equipped to handle them. It’s just important to be aware that there is a definite possibility of experiencing one if you ever stay in Japan for any period of time. 

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Mikaela Breese

<p>Mikaela is a junior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies and East Asian Languages &amp; Cultures. Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, she has spent the past few years enjoying life as a Hoosier while dreaming of the day she finally got to go abroad. Traveling is one of her greatest passions and she looks forward to exploring not only Tokyo but as much of Japan as possible during her semester abroad. She is actively involved in both her sorority and International Studies Honor Society, and enjoys reading, hiking, and drinking tea in her free time. She is so excited for the adventure that lies ahead and can&rsquo;t wait to share it with everyone!</p>

2015 Spring
Home University:
Indiana University
Asian Studies
International Studies
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