Life in Japan

Magnitude 6 Earthquake in Western Japan

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, you might have already heard about it: There was quite a strong earthquake in Western Japan yesterday (April 13th, 2013).

“C’mon earthquakes happen almost every single day in Japan! What makes this one special?”, you ask? Read on and you’ll know!

 

I don’t want to wake up like that ever again

It was early in the morning on Saturday (April 13th, 2013). I was deeply asleep when suddenly I was woken up by my smartphone’s disaster alarm, a loud alarm outside and some terrible shaking! Immediately I was awake and jumped out of bed!

I saw one of my big shelves shaking like crazy while things kept falling down from it.
My heart was beating very fast and I wasn’t sure what to do: “Should I run over to the shelf to catch the items that are about to fall down or should I hide somewhere?”

I rushed under my room’s door frame, just hoping that the shaking would stop!
My body was probably shaking more than the room and the loud alarms were just adding to the scary atmosphere.

After a few seconds everything around me finally calmed down.
Immediately I ran to my laptop to find out what had happened. I wanted to know where the epicenter was, how strong the quake was and if there was a tsunami warning.
As I don’t have a TV or radio, the internet was my only option.

And then I saw it:

 

M6.3 quake hits Awaji Island

Click on the image for a detailed map.

Magnitude 6 Earthquake in Western Japan April 2013

Map source: tenki.jp

The epicenter was near Awaji Island, a small island not too far from Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture.

It had a magnitude of 6 (M6.3) on most of Awaji Island and M4 in many areas of Hyogo and Osaka Prefectures. As you can see the earthquake could be felt even in Kyushu! Here’s a detailed list of the affected areas. No tsunami warning was issued.

 

The great Hanshin Earthquake – Round 2?

What makes this earthquake special and what shocked many people is that the epicenter was just a few kilometers away from that of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Back then parts of Awaji Island and Kobe were severely damaged and over 6000 people lost their lives.
The Hanshin Earthquake had a magnitude of 7.2 and is considered to be one of the most destructive earthquakes in Japan in modern times besides the big one in March 2011 (M9) and the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 (M7.9).

Between yesterday’s earthquake and the destructive Hanshin Earthquake there are more similarities than just the location of the epicenter!

It also happened at almost the exact same time! Yesterday’s quake hit at 5:33am, the Hanshin one shook people awake at 5:46am! The magnitude levels weren’t that different either! M6.3 (2013) vs. M7.2* (1995)! (*I’m using the JMA scale for all of these.)

However, the “earthquake’s nature” was completely different. Co-workers told me that the Hanshin quake shook the earth vertically (up and down) whereas this time it was a horizontal quake (shaking from side to side). I’m no expert, so I can’t tell what kind of movement causes more damage.

Because of all these similarities a lot of people were in a state of shock as they remembered what happened back in 1995 and were afraid the same would happen again. An official was so confused(?) that he sent out a missile alert instead of an earthquake alert!

Luckily the infrastructure, the architecture, the alarm systems and security standards have improved a lot in the past 18 years. While a few houses were damaged, there was no major destruction. Around 24 people were reported to be injured, nobody died.
In many parts of Kansai trains stopped for a few hours to undergo security checks, but resumed service later that day. A few households, mainly on Awaji Island, were without gas, water and / or electricity for a while.

 

Magnitude 6 Earthquake in Western Japan April 2013

Map source: Yahoo Japan

There were a lot of aftershocks on April 13th, but none of them was really strong enough to cause any additional damage. Officials said that there might be more aftershocks within the next few days, so people should stay alert.

Every time I felt an aftershock I froze and my heart was beating faster. Nobody could be sure if the big one in the morning was just a foreshock or already the “real thing”.

 

Misbelief: Japanese people are used to quakes

I know that people who live in the Kanto or Tohoku regions find this probably rather amusing, but people around here (Western Japan) aren’t necessarily used to stronger earthquakes! Most of my students said it was their first “real” earthquake! For me it was also the first real quake experience since I moved to Japan over 5 years ago!

I think it’s a great misbelief that all Japanese people are used to quakes. Of course, they grow up being aware of the omnipresent danger and they have drills and safety lessons in kindergarten and school, but most of them have never really experienced a strong earthquake!

I lived in Western Chugoku area previously and even the elderly had no noteworthy earthquake experience. I remember that one of my female co-workers jumped under a table when the earth was suddenly shaking for just a few seconds. I didn’t even realize that it was an earthquake and just stared at her, asking what she was doing under the table. And yes, she’s Japanese! smilie

Will Japan be safe in the near future?

It seems that this time there was only minor damage. We were lucky, but who knows when the next big one will hit … and where?

Just recently Russian experts said they predict a strong earthquake in Japan by the end of 2014.

Scientists say that Mt. Fuji might erupt by 2015.

Tokai earthquakes happen every 100-150 years, so the next one is already due – people are expecting it to happen soon.

And there’s also the megalomaniac North Korea that declared earlier this week it would turn Japan into a battlefield and would choose Tokyo as its main target.

Despite all that I’d still say it’s safe enough to come to Japan!

 

How about you?

  • Have you ever experienced an earthquake?
  • How strong was it?
  • What happened exactly and how did you deal with it?
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22 Comments

  • Ich habe das große Erdbeben 2011 miterlebt. Zwar in Yokohama und deshalb etwas abgeschwächt, aber dafür im obersten Stockwerk eines Hochhauses und allein. Dazu war es mein ersten größeres Erdbeben. Während ich mich etwa eine Stunde gegen das Klavier stemmte, damit wenigstens das nicht umfällt (um den Fernseher, den PC und den gesamten Inhalt der Schränke war es schon geschehen) war ich mir ziemlich sicher, dass dies meine letzten Minuten wären. Wirklich beängstigend. Wiegsagt, v.a. wenn man allein ist. Zudem gab es eine Sicherheitstür, die sich automatisch schließt und so konnte ich nicht einmal die Etage verlassen.

    Natürlich sitze ich hier, tippe und mir ist nichts passiert außer ein paar blauen Flecken. Die Häuser sind extrem sicher gebaut und so ist damals der Schaden durch den Tsunami und nicht durch das Erdbeben an sich entstanden.

    Heute war hier ein Erdbeben, dass zwar klein war, aber stärker als die anderen der letzten Wochen. Ich bin wie du aus dem Bett geschüttelt worden und habe erstmal meinen Laptop und meine Kamera unters Bett gestellt und mich dann unter einen Türrahmen gehockt. Ging aber schnell wieder vorbei. Nicht wie damals, als man 3 Tage am Stück durchgerüttelt wurde (das war wirklich wirklich komisch, anstrengend, beängstigend und schlafraubend).

    Liebe Grüße,
    Die Kirschblütenfee

    • Danke dass du so offen über deine Erfahrungen sprichst! :)

      Mir ist schon klar, dass Leuten in Kanto und Tohoku sowas sehr oft passiert. Ich kann mich noch gut dran erinnern, wie schlecht es meinen Freunden und Bekannten in Tokio damals ging. Ich hätte wirklich nicht mit ihnen (oder mit dir) tauschen wollen! :(
      Ich kann mir kaum vorstellen, wie schrecklich es sein muss, jede Nacht mit der Angst ins Bett zu gehen, dass wieder irgendwas passiert – die Notfalltasche schon unterm Bett ….

      • Ja, die gute alte Notfalltasche. Habe ich seit dem. :thumbup:

        Die Nachbarn hier konnten es sich auch gar nicht vorstellen, dass es in Deutschland keine Erdbeben gibt. Sie meinten wie glücklich wir doch alle sein müssten. Wenn dem mal so wäre… Vielleicht sollten die Deutschen mehr Auslandsreisen machen (und ich meine nicht Mallorca), dann würde ihnen klar werden wie gut es ihnen (bzw. uns) geht. Armut, Krankheit und Naturkatastrophen verschonen Deutschland ja eher.

        Die Familie meiner Gastmama wohnt in Fukushima, wir essen hier das Gemüse und den Reis der Verwandten, den sie uns immer schicken. Für 2 Monate geht das ja auch, aber als Permanentsituation hoffe ich sehr, dass dies keine bösen Folgen haben wird.

        Ein sehr komplexes Thema, deshalb belasse ich es dabei. :(

        Vielen Dank, dass auch du deine Erfahrungen geteilt hast!

        Liebe Grüße,
        Die Kirschblütenfee

        • Danke auch, dass du so offen darüber redest! :)

          Ich muss ganz ehrlich zugeben, wenn ich wüsste, dass Nahrungsmittel aus Fukushima kommen, würde ich sie wahrscheinlich nicht essen! :/ …
          Und ich stimme dir zu, das ist ein sehr kompliziertes Thema und würde einen eigenen Blogeintrag verdienen! ;P

  • Eek, earthquakes are scary, aren’t they? At least Japan is very well prepared to deal with them and buildings are designed with them in mind. Hope you’re ok…

    • I’m ok now. Thank you! ^___^
      I think it was only so scary for me because it was my first experience of that kind, I was all alone (it was 5:30am after all) and I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
      Later I was told that in case of an emergency we should evacuate to the nearby elementary school.

      Today there have been no aftershocks, so I really hope that we’re through with this one!

  • As you mentioned we are expecting the next big earthquake here in the Tokai Area. The last one was in 1854 and they tend to happen every 100 years or so. We are over due now, so it could strike at any time. Best to be prepared and have an emergency pack that include such things as water, canned food, biscuits, spare batteries, radio and a flashlight.

    • I know that a lot of my friends in Tokyo have emergency bags like that ever since March 2011, but do you have one?
      I have to admit I don’t because I really didn’t expect to be hit by a big quake.
      Even a massive Tokai quake and a possible tsunami shouldn’t affect my area, but maybe I should pack one …
      You never know, right? :(

  • I was aware that Japan isn’t all the same when it comes to earthquakes, but as I spent one year in Yokohama I got quite used to them. The biggest I felt (beside the after-quakes of the 11th of March ones) was in Tohoku though and everyone moved on like nothing was happening while my water bottle was doing the Jurassic Park T-Rex thingy very distinctively. That one went on for quite some time…

    I just assumed that everyone is so blase about earth quakes then and I think that’s what took away most of my fears concerning earthquakes as well. It’s not like being afraid will impact in any way on the earthquake, right? At least that’s what I tell myself.

    I guess living in a place were earthquakes are rare make it difficult to act unaffected, especially if the one big memory you have of an earthquake was an absolute disaster…

    • I totally agree.
      When you’re used to something and have experienced several times that nothing bad happens, it’s easy to stay relaxed.
      For the people in my region who have not much experience apart from that big one that destroyed so much and killed a lot of people, it’s much harder to stay calm, I guess.

  • Wow. Crazy similarities!
    I am glad we don’t have earthquakes in Atlanta.
    What surprises me, you (living in Japan) writing that you were not sure what to do: “Should I run over to the shelf to catch the items that are about to fall down or should I hide somewhere?” Firth the first shake you should go outside of the building and as far as possible from tall buildings.

    • The funny thing is that even my Japanese co-workers cannot clearly answer what the best thing to do is when a quake happens!
      I’m sure they know, but I guess it really has to do with them not expecting it and not having much experience with it.

      I guess – depending on your options – hiding under a strong table or running outside (like you suggested) are good options.

      • I went to the Bosaikan in Ikebukuro and they said that its best to stay in the house! Running outside is one of the worst actions. Japanese Houses are pretty safe ( at the big 9.0 earthquake really few houses were damaged through it). Strong table or a doorframe are best to hide.

  • I was touring the country last week and this quake woke me up in bed in Kyoto! But my friend in the same room slept right through it! Being an Australian, quakes are a rarity for us. Although last year we did get a small one, so I was aware of what they felt like. My friend in the room across the hall had no idea and thought someone was hiding in the wardrobe which was shaking! Still scary though. We were meant to take the Shinkansen to Kansai that day, but had to resort to bus when all the services in the region were cancelled.

    • I’m sorry to hear that.
      They had to stop most train services for security checks.
      I suppose by “Kansai” you mean the KIX airport? Did the planes all leave on time?
      I heard that in Osaka (Itami) some flights were cancelled / delayed.

  • Oh yeah, I remember that one! I live in Osaka, and on the top floor of our house, I can just remember enduring the rattling and shaking for what seemed like ages. Poor cats were scared to death – and so was I!

    I mean, I was working on the third floor of a warehouse here when the Tohoku quake hit, and the swaying was horrifying, but this was a whole new level of terror for me! Even after living in Los Angeles for near 13 years, I never felt anything like that. Glad we all came out of it ok!

    • Oh, I didn’t know you also could feel such a strong shaking in Osaka. I’m actually surprised, but glad to hear you were ok.
      Was definitely no fun, especially because it was early in the morning when most of us were still deep asleep.

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