Disaster Preparedness in Japan

 This article is firstly appear in Medium.

“Japan is an advanced country in disaster risk reduction policies, based on the experience of a variety of disasters and the recovery from them. Given that, we are capable of contributing to enhancement of resilience in the world.” Said Prime Minister Shinzo ABE, on February 1st, 2019, on his speech in the House of Councillors.

From October 20th to 30th, together with AHA Centre Executive Programme participants from 10 different countries, I experienced the Japanese resilience towards disaster. During these 10 days, we joined in various lectures, visited different museums, and were experiencing many direct and indirect lessons learned during our journey. Therefore, it is hard to write all those experiences in a very short writing material. Hence, I would present some of the most important lessons from Japan, especially for preparing towards disaster threats.

Understanding Disaster Risk

Four years ago, in 2015, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction were released in Sendai. In this framework, there are four priority actions and the first one is understanding disaster risk.

During our visit, we witnessed that Japanese understand very well disaster threats in their country. These threats included earthquake, tsunami, flood, typhoon, landslide, and volcanic eruption.

For earthquake disaster threat, currently Japan is anticipated two large scale earthquakes. First is the Nankai Trough Earthquake with probability occurrence within 30 years of M8 to 9 class earthquakes. Second is Tokyo Inland Earthquake with probability occurrence within 30 years of M8 class earthquake.

By understanding disaster risk, Japanese speak common language. They consider disaster risk as the main threat and various measures should be prepared. For example, they have diffusion disaster resilience local plans for 47 prefectures and 115 local governments. Meanwhile, for process and scope of disaster management policies is incorporated: preparedness, early warning, capacity building, response, recovery and reconstruction, support affected people, operation, planning, resource management, and laws, acts, and planning.

In terms of law, since 1961 Japan had established Basic Act on Disaster Risk Management. This law then would be amended after major disasters occur, such as after the Niigata Earthquake in 1964, Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, and Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

Disaster Preparedness

Aside of amendment in the disaster management act, after massif disaster events, Japan also draws various lessons learned. This action being conducted through rigorous researches by academia in different universities, evaluation in the institutions and policies, and improvement in infrastructures.

Among those infrastructures, museums and learning centres are important buildings for disaster preparedness activities. Here, visitors can learn the circumstances during the disaster event. Moreover, they also can practice how to respond for particular disaster.

During our study visit in Japan, we visited Honjo Safety Learning Centre, Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park, Osaka Tsunami and Storm Surge Disaster Prevention Station, and Kobe Earthquake Museum. Every facility was built after a disaster event and each of them has specialities for disaster that can be learnt.

For example, in Honjo Safety Learning Centre, we experienced to be shaking by M7 class earthquake. Here, we also learnt on how to face fire disaster in building or houses. Meanwhile, in Osaka we learn about tsunami and how to mitigate this disaster.

Learning in these facilities is helping visitors to not only understanding disaster mechanisms, but also conducting action to respond the disaster. In short, visitors are not only experiencing the theory, but also can apply their knowledge. Then, it can become their habit to face the real disaster event.

In these four facilities, we found some similarities. All facilities have theatre cinemas with different movies related to disaster that will be explained later. Except for Kobe Earthquake Museum, all facilities are free including the tour guide and demonstration. Then, we can find the utilisation of cartoon character in picture or statues for conveying the message, such as action figures for fire fighters, tsunami, and others.

In the governance of disaster preparedness, Japan conducted comprehensive disaster reduction drills on the Disaster Reduction Day (September 1st). The objective of this event was for simulating response to the Major Nankai Trough Earthquake. The Drill involved Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Some activities in the drill included a meeting of extreme disaster management headquarters, extraordinary cabinet meeting, report from governors of affected prefecture, and press conference by Prime Minister and Minister of State for Disaster Management.

In addition, local governments also conducted role-playing simulation exercise for operating extreme management headquarters. The simulation was for 15 hours after the Tokyo Inland Earthquake and review the coordination of relevant local governments and designated public corporations.

Disaster Monitoring

As mentioned by the Japanese Prime Minister Abe, the country is advanced including in the technology for monitoring disaster. They have JAXA, an institution like NASA for the USA. JAXA have and operationalise satellite imagery which can be used for disaster monitoring not only in Japan, but also in the region.

Moreover, Japan Meteorological Agency is also actively involving in monitoring the disaster, especially caused by hydrometeorological phenomena, such as typhoon, rainfall, and snow. This organisation can develop near real time disaster risk and then produce alerts for Japanese.

Meanwhile, for geological hazard, many research institutions are starting to monitor and conduct prediction regarding earthquake occurrence. Although, the results are mostly for research and not for public.

Business Sector in Disaster Management

Another lesson from Japan’s visit was the involvement of business sector in disaster management not only in Japan, but also in other countries.

Perhaps you still remember a few times ago when a sinkhole occurred in a crowded road in Tokyo. Then, in less then six hour this issue could be solved, like there is nothing happen in the area.

Since I was wondering about this event, when visited Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, I asked to the officer there regarding this event. He answered that the government have a strong relationship and MoU with contractors in the city. Therefore, when an event such as the sinkhole occurred, the contractor will work accordingly to solve the problem.

Indeed, the strong relationship between government and private sector happened in Japan. In an occasion, we have presentation from the cabinet office and afterwards from Japan International Public Private Association for Disaster Risk Reduction (JIPAD). In addition, we also have a session with Japan Bousai Platform Secreatriat.

Both organisations are consortium of different companies. Their core business and services are related to disaster risk reduction and disaster management activities. Their existence is helping governments not only in Japan, but also around the globe to find the right partner for conducting activities related to the risk reduction or management. In short, platform for business sector in disaster management are acknowledged by the government and even they share similar occasion for sharing their expertise.

Challenges and Opportunities

With all of disaster preparedness measures, Japan hopes for its resilience towards disaster threats. However, several challenges occur in the country.

As the New York Times points out after the Typhoon Hagibis occurrence, “After a typhoon’s record-breaking rains breached dozens of levees, the country is wondering whether even the costliest systems can be future-proofed for the age of climate change.”

As many countries in the world, Japan also face effects of climate change that cause volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguous. Even with their various systems, more frequent and increase effects of hydro meteorological disaster cause many damages and casualties.

This circumstance even more appalling when we consider the increasing of ageing population in Japan. In fact, most of victims of the last typhoon were the elderly. This group of age sometimes also hard to be asked to evacuate during the disaster event.

In terms of the economy condition, Japan also faces a high public debt, even two times of its GDP. Some experts argue that Japan experiences the decreasing in the economic growth.

However, it is not Japan that already gave up with this challenging situation. As mention above, they have conducted various measures for preparing towards disaster threats. Moreover, they have started to enter the Society 5.0.

In the Society 5.0 platform, national resilience is the core. This can be achieved by implementing disaster risk reduction system, infrastructure maintenance system, integrated material research and development system, and various other elements.

In addition, Japanese national resilience is multi-level, cross-sectoral, and inclusive. Then it also considers minimising costs of multiple hazards with constrained resources. For example, Japan is developing infrastructures which also act as structural mitigation facilities. The country also changed for market-led allocation system to smart planning and public goods for supporting disaster risk reduction and management actions.


DeWit, A, 2019, ‘The 2030 Agenda and Japan’s National Resilience’, Power Point Presentation, UNU, Tokyo.

Eito, H, 2019, ‘Introduction of Meteorological Services in Japan Meteorological Agency’, Power Point Presentation, JMA Office, Tokyo.

Ishigaki, K, 2019, ‘Disaster Risk Reduction Policies in Japan’, Power Point Presentation, UNU, Tokyo.


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