Earthquake Preparedness in Japan with Children

Last Updated: May 1, 2024
Written by Kay

Last Saturday night (February 13th, 2021), I was sitting at the kitchen table and texting away on my phone when an emergency alarm starting blaring from it, signaling an impending earthquake.

As this had happened before and the result was nothing more than a brief sway, I didn’t think anything of it until everything began shaking suddenly and violently. I was downstairs while my husband was on the second floor with our daughter. I contemplated going up but knew it was safer to stay in place, so I moved under the kitchen table and waited it out.

There were a lot of things going on in my mind at the time.

  1. This is scary!
  2. Should I go upstairs? Are my husband and daughter okay?
  3. This earthquake is really long..!
  4. I hope we don’t have to evacuate.

East Japan had been hit with an earthquake measuring an upper 6 on the Japanese seismic scale, an aftershock from the Great East Japan Earthquake that devastated Tohoku and claimed tens of thousands of lives ten years ago. This aftershock was a 4 in Kanto and took out power in Chiba and Saitama.

When the earthquake had subsided, I rushed upstairs and even my husband was rattled (no pun intended!). He had been living in Ibaraki when the 3/11 earthquake struck, and although this earthquake was nowhere near what he felt that day (he told me he thought he was going to die, and this is a guy who is an eternal optimist), he said he worried about predictions that another big earthquake was soon to come.

He recalled how after that earthquake, he had no power or running water for two days. He didn’t have an emergency preparedness kit, either, and luckily snagged some water from a convenience store before everything sold out within minutes. I had been living in southern Honshu at the time and although I didn’t feel anything, I saw the devastating damage from the earthquake and tsunami firsthand when I went to volunteer in Kesennuma one year later.

A picture I took in May 2012 of a destroyed classroom in Koyo High School, located in Kesennuma, Miyagi.

This aftershock, a reminder of that day nearly a decade ago, kicked us into high gear, and the next morning, we refreshed the perishables in our emergency preparedness kit and got our daughter’s kit ready, which I’m embarrassed to say we didn’t have ready before.

Earthquakes and other natural disasters in Japan are no joke, so it’s important to be prepared in the event that a very serious one happens. This is why I thought I would take this opportunity to share how my husband and I have prepared for earthquakes and what we think is important information for parents in Japan to know when one occurs.

Emergency Preparedness Kits/Sets (防災セット) for Adults in Japan

If you need to evacuate immediately, it is a good idea to have an emergency/disaster preparedness set/kits, or bousai setto (防災セット), somewhere where you can easily grab it and go. We put ours in the closet near the entranceway.

earthquake disaster kit japan

This kit can be bought with almost everything you need for a disaster at home centers in Japan or online, such as Amazon Japan. We got ours on Amazon because we thought that it was affordable in comparison to the ready-made kits sold in physical stores (or at least the ones we looked at). We decided to get two bags from two different brands that contained items for one person each. What I like about these bags is that they are very light and have enough room for us to put food supplies inside as well.

[山善] 防災リュック 30点 セット 【防災士監修】 一次避難用 給水バッグ 携帯用トイレ 大容量 ブラック

Yamazen Disaster Preparedness Backpack, 30 Piece Set

【防災士監修】 アイリスオーヤマ(IRIS OHYAMA) エアー枕付きで避難所生活も快適にこれ1つで安心防災リュック 1人用 33点 ブラック BRS-33
Iris Ohyama Disaster Preparedness Backpack, 33 Piece Set

We also have a third bag, which contains our daughter’s emergency preparedness kit, which I will share the details of later, as well as a portable mattress. With food, make sure you check the expiry date before you buy it because you want your yen to stretch for longer and avoid having to replace food and water constantly. That being said, make sure you don’t forget to replace perishables in your emergency preparedness kit because the last thing you want is to have to evacuate and have only expired food and water on hand.

You can find many other kinds of emergency preparedness backpacks at stores and online, such as backpacks that contain emergency supplies for two adults:

防災士監修 防災セット 防災グッズ 被災地での活用実績多数 (2人用) 地震対策30点 避難セット plus 防災リュック ホワイト

For families:

防災グッズ 非常用持ち出し ご家族(3人~4人)の豪華充実ファミリーセット 防災避難セット ・ 非常用持ち出しセット・5年 非常食・保存食 ・ 非常持出し袋 東京防災

As well as ones with food and a mattress:

Relieved Life 防災グッズ 防災セット 1人用 ラジオライト、ランタン、スマホ電源専用機がセットになったパフォーマンスモデル 【消防士協力監修】選べるリュックカラー 災害避難セット(1人用,ブラック)
Below are some supplies we have in addition to the ones in the backpack in case of an emergency (the cassette gas is for our portable stove in case the power goes out at home):

We also prepared some emergency food that won’t expire for a few years. Everything except for the canned goods is in my emergency preparedness backpack in case we have to evacuate. We have more food, unpictured, in my husband’s emergency preparedness backpack and for home.

You can also easily DIY your own bag but that may take some time and as a parent, time can be hard to find. If you decide to make your own bag, here are some ideas as to what you should put inside of it:

□ Three-day supply of water
Three-day emergency food supply (避難食・ひなんしょく). These tend to have a shelf life of about three to five years and come in a wide variety, such as different kinds of rice, canned bread, azuki beans, as well as biscuits and chocolate.
Portable toilet (簡易トイレ・かんいトイレ)
Collapsable water tank
A flashlight(フラッシュライト) and batteries (it may also be a good idea to get a hands-free one that you can wear around your neck, such as this very affordable one by Panasonic, or a headlamp.)
Work gloves(軍手・ぐんて)
Portable charger for your phone
First aid kit (緊急セット・きんきゅうセット)
□ Medicine
□ Toothbrush
□ Tissue paper
□ Toilet paper
□ Feminine products
Body wipes/skincare sheets
□ Change of clothes for three days
□ A towel
□ Slippers
□ Mask
□ Kairo (pocket warmers)
□ Rain poncho
Emergency blanket
□ Plastic tarp
□ Plastic bags for garbage and dirty clothes
Swiss army knife
Portable water purifier
Portable emergency radio
Helmet or protective hood (防災ずきん)
□ A whistle
□ Plastic, portable plates and cutlery
□ Saran (plastic) wrap (this is very versatile as it can be used to cover plates so you don’t have to wash them after use, to help keep warm, to cover wounds, and so on.)
□ Duct tape
□ Rope
□ Some cash in case you can’t get to your wallet as well as a copy of your residence card and passport photo page, and similar important documents for your child (passport, citizenship certificates, copies of their Certificate of Birth Registration, Record of Delivery, and Immunization Record pages in their 母子健康手帳 or Maternal and Child Health Handbook)
□ Important phone numbers
□ Emergency items for your pet! (e.g., food and water for three days)

Try to make sure that your bag isn’t uncomfortably heavy because that will make evacuating much harder and can possibly cause injury. (The last thing you need is something broken or sprained during a natural disaster!)

Emergency Preparedness Set/Kit (防災セット) for Babies, Toddlers, and Children in Japan

This is essential to prepare if you have a little one. Sometimes it might be easy enough to just grab your diaper bag and go but just in case, here is an overview of some of the items that should be in an emergency preparedness set for babies, toddlers, and young children in Japan.

As your child gets older you’ll need to swap the items, such as making sure they still fit into the clothes and diapers you’ve prepared for them and replacing food that’s about to go bad.

For Babies

□ Three-day supply of diapers
Baby wipes
Portable changing mat
□ Three-day supply of ready-made formula if your child is formula-fed
ICREO cartons
Hohoemi Rakuraku Milk (ほほえみ らくらくミルク) in cans
Portable sticks of powdered formula or Hohoemi Rakuraku cubes
□ Three-day supply of disposable bottles if they’re formula-fed
□ Nursing cover
□ Change of clothes for three days
□ Socks
Plastic bags for diapers
□ Plastic bags for dirty clothes
□ Alcohol-free wipes
□ Alcohol-free hand sanitizer
□ Tissue paper
□ A blanket
□ A towel
□ Bandages (the ones for kids are cute but don’t stay on for very long so I would just use regular Band-Aids)
□ Disinfectant (I recommend マキロンs)
Medicine for fevers (for babies 3 months and up)
Disposable bibs
□ One toy

For Toddlers

□ Three-day supply of water
□ Three-day emergency food supply (crackers, cookies, and ready-to-eat little bentos for babies 9 months and up that don’t need to be heated up)
□ Three-day supply of diapers/training pants
Baby wipes
□ Wipes for her hand and mouth (手くちふき)
□ Tissues
Disposable bibs
□ Change of clothes for three days
□ Socks
Plastic bag for diapers
□ Plastic bag for dirty clothes
□ Alcohol-free hand sanitizer and/or wipes
□ Bandages
□ Disinfectant
Medicine for fevers 
□ A blanket
□ A towel
□ One or two toys or books

Below is the emergency preparedness kit I made for my 19-month-old daughter:

It’s completely up to you how much or how little you want to put in your child’s emergency preparedness set. You know your child the best and also what you’re able to handle (there is a chance that you alone will be carrying these things, which might be even harder if you have more than one small child).

If you can, try to incorporate these items into your own backpack so there is less to carry. If you do this, make sure to check that the backpack isn’t too heavy for you to carry if you’re going to be carrying a baby or toddler as well. Some people suggest using a suitcase but personally, I’m not sure how practical that is if there is a lot of debris outside from a natural disaster. (If anyone has successfully evacuated with a suitcase, please let me know how that went!)

My daughter’s food is included in our own as she now eats pretty much the same things that we do, but I also packed a few of her favorite snacks for her as well as some drinks.

If you run out of diapers, you can always DIY one using a plastic bag and a towel:

For Children

Children elementary school age and up should have most of the same things as adults in their emergency preparedness set. However, there are obvious things that a child should probably not have in their possession (such as a Swiss army knife, for one).

□ Three-day supply of water
□ Three-day emergency food supply
□ Portable toilet
□ Mask
□ Slippers
□ A towel
□ A change of clothes for three days
□ Rain poncho
□ Emergency blanket
□ Plastic bags for garbage and dirty clothes
□ Toothbrush
□ Tissue paper
Helmet or protective hood (防災ずきん)
□ Kairo

Ready-made emergency preparedness sets for children elementary-age and up are available online, such as this one by 防災防犯ダイレクト:

キッズ防災セット 子ども用の避難セット 被災時に子供の安全を守る防災グッズをセット

These are good to have in the event that your child needs to evacuate on their own (just make sure that they can easily access it).

Earthquake-Proofing Your Home in Japan

If you haven’t already, make sure that large pieces of furniture in your home are secure to prevent them from possibly toppling over during an earthquake, such as bookshelves, dressers, shelves, the television, etc.

This goes especially for your room and your child’s. A few weeks ago, I read a story about the Great Hanshin Earthquake in which a chest of drawers fell on a sleeping family and a fire broke out in their apartment. Everyone escaped except for the young son, who was completely pinned down.

In order to help prevent furniture from falling, it’s best to invest in 家具転倒防止(かぐてんとうぼうし)supplies. For instance, these sticky gel pads can be placed under furniture, such as a television set, a computer monitor, or the legs of a crib to stop it from falling while these bars are great for wardrobes and bookshelves.

Try not to position your child’s crib or bed near a window as it can break during an earthquake. Similarly, do not hang anything, such as pictures, above their crib or bed as these can fall and injure a child.

As mentioned earlier, sometimes earthquakes can take out your power, water, and/or gas supply. Therefore, it’s important to have the following:

Know the location of your fire extinguisher and check periodically that your fire alarm is working. Try to also ensure that there is nothing blocking the door in case you need to escape.

Creating an Escape/Evacuation Plan

If you haven’t already, discuss within your family what to do if you need to escape due to an earthquake, tsunami, typhoon, fire, or other natural disasters.

  1. Decide how you will evacuate your child (and pet if you have one), especially if they sleep in a room separate from you. Have a practice earthquake and evacuation drill if you can once a year so that you know how practical your plan and supplies to carry are, and your child knows what to do and isn’t too scared and confused when the real thing happens.
  2. Know the location of your local evacuation areas/shelters (避難場所・施設) in case your home is no longer safe. This website might be helpful to find an evacuation area/shelter closest to you. If you can’t find this information online, ask your ward office or city hall.
  3. Come up with a meeting place if you get separated from your family, especially as there’s a chance that you may not be able to use your phone. Write down important phone numbers and keep one copy in your wallet and another in your emergency preparedness kit.
  4. Remember that 119 is the number to call in Japan for an ambulance, to report a fire, or for rescue service. However, note that there may be a possibility that you can’t get through right away if there is a high volume of calls.

What To Do When There’s an Earthquake in Japan

It is important to know what to do when an earthquake strikes, especially if you’re a parent. Here are some basic steps you should take and things you should be aware of:

  1. When there’s an earthquake, grab your child and take shelter immediately, whether it be under a table or in a bathtub. This place should be far from a window or large pieces of furniture that could possibly fall. Make sure to shield your child with your body in case something falls or breaks and there’s debris. If your child is scared, talk to them reassuringly in a calm voice (easier said than done, I know).
  2. Do not go under the bed. If the earthquake is at night, stay in bed or in your futon and protect your head with a pillow while shielding your child.
  3. Gas stoves are turned off automatically during earthquakes registering as 5 and up on the Japanese seismic scale, so you do not need to rush to turn off the stove.
  4. Do not go outside during the earthquake.
  5. Wait for one to two minutes after the shaking has stopped before moving.
  6. If you need to evacuate following an earthquake, follow the escape/evacuation plan that you discussed with your family.
  7. If you are not in immediate danger, turn off the circuit breaker and gas before leaving to prevent a fire. Try to get your important personal belongings as well (wallet with ID and health insurance card, passports, bank books, and 母子健康手帳 or Maternal and Child Health Handbook).
  8. When evacuating your home, grab your emergency preparedness kit(s) if it’s accessible.
  9. Take the stairs if you live in an apartment and not the elevator.
  10. Try to wear sturdy shoes and be careful when going outside as there may be debris.
  11. Do not drive your car or ride your bicycle.
  12. If you live in an area where there’s a risk of a tsunami or flooding, evacuate to an elevated area.
  13. Note that there may be aftershocks following an earthquake. Try to remain calm and stay away from crowded places as well as buildings that could possibly fall or have falling debris.

Earthquakes are scary enough for adults but can also be quite traumatic for young children. If your child experiences an earthquake, this guide by the Government of New Zealand’s Ministry of Education might be helpful in terms of how to support your toddler if they begin to demonstrate behavioral or emotional changes following the event.

Note that although my husband and I have done a lot of reading on the subject (and my husband has experienced natural disasters in Japan), we are not experts when it comes to natural disasters— this is just our way of sharing what we know so far and how we are hoping to protect ourselves and our daughter in the event of a large earthquake. Therefore, all feedback is welcome so that this article can be updated with important information to help other parents in Japan.

For more detailed information in English from experts on how to prepare for a natural disaster in Japan and what to do when one occurs, please refer to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Disaster Prevention Guide Book or the Disaster Preparedness Tokyo manual.

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Hi! I'm Kay

I’m a long-term Japan resident and parent who loves writing and traveling. My goal is to help parents from around the world navigate living and traveling with kids in Japan.

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