Japan's Earthquakes

Barry Petersen talks about earthquake preparedness in Japan and looks back on one of the most devastating earthquakes that country has ever seen.
I'm Barry Petersen, and this Letter from Asia comes from Tokyo. I'm standing in a very unusual room. This room is designed to show Japanese what it feels like when a really strong earthquake hits, like the one that killed more than six-thousand in Kobe in 1995. Many older people had moved to Kobe believing it was safer since earthquakes were considered rare.

Each year, they remember the dead - always a reminder that one of the worst things about an earthquake is that you science has no way to know when or where one will hit.

Thunderstorms? The weatherman tells you on TV. Tornados? Sometimes there is a warning or a siren. But an earthquake comes with no warning at all, which is why the Japanese are constantly told they must drill and be prepared for what's going to happen. They know it's going to happen, just not when or where.

So if you live in Japan, you learn how to evacuate in drills that are mandatory. Department stores carry earthquake preparedness kits, making sure you have everything from flashlights to food stored in your house.

And the system is geared for disaster, like the bullet trains that automatically stop so tracks can be checked. Tsunami warnings are almost instant, and most of the time, people cram into cars and make their way to higher ground. Every day at 5:00pm in Tokyo, they test a city-wide loudspeaker system. The test is just music, but in a real emergency, the loudspeakers could tell people where to go, and what areas to avoid.

Japan gets 20 percent of all the world's strong earthquakes. Maybe that's why people here have an enviable talent for living in the moment. More than most, they know from their own history that a land where the earth shakes, tomorrow is promised to no one.
By Barry Petersen