How to survive an earthquake

Living in Japan has taught me many things, but perhaps the most practical thing I have learnt is how to survive an earthquake. Not just a physical ground shaking, belongings bumping earthquake, but one of those world breaking, sudden emotional ones too. The thing I have learnt is that the two are survived in the exact same way. So here are my top tips on surviving an earthquake both physically and emotionally:

1. Keep a cushion to hand.

Working in Japanese schools you’ll notice every child has their own hand-made cushion. At first it seems just for comfort, but supposedly they double up for earthquake emergencies too. Unfolding the cushions they become big enough to place on your head and protect you from any flying pencils or erasers that could be displaced during the earthquake. It’s probably not going to help when the big one hits but it makes you feel a little safer nonetheless.

Always have an emergency emotional cushion. Your best friend. Your mum. Heck, a stranger on a bench if you must. Someone who will essentially wrap their love and wisdom around you, this person is your buffer to the real world and they’ll help you feel more secure even if they provide little to no protection against the earthquake at all. Multiple emotional cushions are recommended.

2. Stop building your houses out of solid materials.

The Japanese have mastered creating buildings made from paper, bamboo and anything light. If their houses crash down around them, which probably happens more often than you would expect, damage is minimal. Houses can be rebuilt easily since they were already made to be breakable. Luckily that cushion is going to help you survive your card house falling in on you.

Same emotionally. Stop building relationships on solid foundations. If you just see your relationship as something that’s made from paper and is easily destroyed the likelihood is that when the earthquake hits, it’s not going to hurt that much anyway. Westerners really should stop building their homes out of bricks and mortar. That stuff damages, it breaks bones and it crushes you.

3. Stock up on water and non-perishable food items.

Despite the Japanese living in tiny accommodation, the small spaces are easily utilised with some clever organisation. Keeping you’re paper house full of green tea and instant ramen, will ensure that when you are trapped in your paper house you will not die of hunger or dehydration. You just need some real life Tetris skills to find room for that extra gallon of water and a few bars of chocolate while you’re at it.

When the earthquake hits not even a small part of you will want to go outside. You will want to hide in your apartment forever. You are allowed to feel this way. But if all the shaking hasn’t made you feel queasy, you’re going to need nutrition at some point. You remember you stocked up on all that food before. This is why. Now you don’t have to go to the supermarket bleary eyed and tearful. You can just continue to hide, until it is safe to come out.

4. If in doubt, follow everyone else.

The Japanese are really good at following directions, they are basically Emmet from The Lego Movie. They know what they are doing in an earthquake. Safety points? They know. They’ve read that manual several times. They are trained for this at school just like the British are trained incase of a fire. If in doubt, follow everyone else to safety. Someone, somewhere, definitely knows what they are doing.

Equally, at some point during you’re emotional earthquake, you’re going to need to get back to reality. This is the part when you retreat from your rubble and start acting “normal” or as close to it as possible. Other people are the best indicator for this. Follow their lead. Be happy with them. Be sad with them. You’ll eventually be in the swing of things again.

5. Find shelter.

So you’re following the Japanese now so the likelihood is that this is a pretty bad earthquake. Hopefully they are leading you to the earthquake equivalent of a bomb shelter. This is the safe place where everyone will start to rebuild the city and the community. It shouldn’t take long since it was all made from paper, but it’s important to work together to rebuild quickly and efficiently.

Now you’re following everyone else emotionally, you are starting to create a new “normal”, it’s time to find your shelter too. This shelter might be a place, it might be a person but it is something you feel secure with. This something is always there, it is almost indestructible. This is your base point for rebuilding your emotional paper house quickly and efficiently making your “normal” become actually normal.

Remember earthquakes can happen at any time and can cause a lot of destruction. Always be prepared.

5 thoughts on “How to survive an earthquake

    1. It’s a beautiful photo, but I cannot take credit for it. It was a photo I saw in the newspaper after the Chile earthquake. Touching image that I remembered for this post.


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