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American Citizen Services

Emergency Preparedness for Americans in Japan

This information is provided to help prepare U.S. citizens and their families in the unlikely event of natural disasters, civil emergencies, and other situations that might necessitate an evacuation.

In the event of an actual emergency, the Embassy will place up to date instructions specific to the circumstances of the event.

Emergency Messages for U.S. Citizens | Earthquake | Typhoon Tips | Tsunami Tips

Before an emergency occurs there are a number of things that you can do to prepare:

Staying informed during an emergency situation:

  • Monitor our website - we will issue updated messages for U.S. citizens and post appropriate information specific to the circumstances on our website.
  • Monitor local radio stations such as AFN (American Forces Network) or InterFM (English language news alerts) and follow the international and local news outlets for additional information. AFN Tokyo-AM 810kHz, AFN Iwakuni-AM 1575kHz, AFN Sasebo-AM 1575kHz, AFN Okinawa-FM 89.1MHz, InterFM Tokyo-FM 76.1Mhz, InterFM Nagoya-FM 79.5Mhz.
  • During natural disasters such as typhoons or tropical storms, monitor the Japan Meteorological Agency website for current weather and environmental conditions.
  • Read the latest security information worldwide.  U.S. citizens should regularly monitor the State Department's website where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found.  Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers from outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). 

EARTHQUAKE (also read about Tsunami Tips)

Japan is the most seismically active piece of real estate in the world. The Tokyo metropolitan area experiences regular tremors of varying intensities and the probability that a severe and damaging earthquake will occur is high. The consequences of such a quake will vary greatly depending upon the time of day and year that the quake occurs, and no one can predict with any certainty what conditions will be like immediately following an intensive shock.

It is prudent that everyone be prepared to fend for themselves in the immediate aftermath of a big earthquake. Every family and company should develop its own emergency plan and make sure its personnel and their family members are familiar with earthquake emergency procedures and precautions for their safety. Companies and organizations should coordinate carefully with their ward or city office to ensure that they are familiar with Japanese government plans for their area.

Please read on for information on how to best prepare.

The Role of the Embassy

The Japanese Government will be responsible for assisting foreigners immediately after a major earthquake. Telephone services will be severely overloaded and the Japanese Government will restrict phone use to priority users. Nonetheless, the Embassy will quickly want to ascertain the welfare and whereabouts of American Citizens.

To aid in this process, American citizens should cooperate with Japanese authorities at evacuation sites and clearly identify themselves as Americans. Those connected with larger organizations such as companies, schools or church groups should try to let these organizations know of their welfare and whereabouts if this is practical.

The Embassy will be in touch with the Japanese Government and with larger umbrella organizations to attempt to identify as many American citizens as possible and determine their welfare. In the likely event that it is impossible to communicate by telephone or use motor vehicles, Embassy consular assistance teams are prepared to walk to major evacuation sites, international schools, hotels and so on and collect information about American citizens. The Embassy will help you get information about the situation and communicate with Japanese government officials if necessary in order to obtain proper food, shelter and medical attention.

We will pass as much information as possible about the welfare of individual U.S. citizens back to the Department of State in Washington, D.C. so that this information may be shared with your families, friends and employers.

Earthquake Survival Manual

Though a bit distracting in parts ("Avoid being caught up in such a panic and try to keep your head," "Day Three: Residents, companies and the government will work together to rebuild the community," "Pack cloth tape... for the arrangement of the baggage"), most of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's bilingual Early Warning System

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) provides residents in Japan with earthquake early warnings. These are new rapid earthquake alerts to be issued immediately after the occurrence of early tremors, in order to secure time to protect yourself before strong tremors arrive. Please note that these warnings, when accurate, may just give you a couple of seconds advance notice. Preparation is of the utmost importance. The JMA started providing earthquake early warnings through several means such as TV and radio on 1 October 2007. For more details please go to: (ENGLISH) or, (JAPANESE)

Earthquake Simulators

If you've been in Japan more than a few weeks, you have likely felt at least a light tremor.What does a real earthquake feel like?The Tokyo Northern Disaster Research Center has an earthquake simulator that you can experience free of charge.They'll simulate a series of small quakes, ranging from 2 to 8 on the Japanese scale.

The simulator can also let you experience the exact magnitude and duration of the 1923 Kanto Earthquake and the 1995 Kobe Earthquake.The Center also has a simulator showing how to escape from a smoke-clogged hotel fire and offers demonstrations on the proper use of fire extinguishers.While all the demonstrations are in Japanese only, even kids can follow along without much trouble.

Take the Namboku Subway line to Nishigahara Station, about 30 minutes from central Tokyo.The Center is about a five minute walk from the subway station, just past the gigantic Tokyo Hospital and the local fire station.

For more information call 03-3940-1811 (Japanese only).

Essential Supplies (Store enough for three to five days)

  • Water (four liters/one gallon per person per day.Change water every three to five months)
  • Food (canned or pre-cooked, requiring no heat or water.Consider special dietary needs, infants, the elderly, pets)
  • Flashlight with spare batteries and bulbs
  • Radio (battery operated with spare batteries)
  • Large plastic trash bags (for trash, waste, water protection, ground cloth, temporary blanket)
  • Hand soap and/or disinfecting hand cleaner gel that does not require water
  • Feminine hygiene supplies, infant supplies, toilet paper
  • Essential medications as required; glasses if you normally wear contacts
  • Paper plates, cups, plastic utensils, cooking foil and plastic wrap (wrapped around plates so that they were re-usable) and paper towels
  • First Aid kit with instructions
  • Yen in small bills (ATMs may not work after a disaster), with coins and phone cards for public phones.
  • Place emergency supplies and your telephone in places where they are less likely to be knocked over or buried by falling objects (on the floor under a strong table is a good choice).

Essential Home Preparations Before a Disaster

  • Secure water heaters, refrigerators and tall and heavy furniture to the walls to prevent falling.
  • Move heavy items to lower shelves, and install latches or other locking devices on cabinets.
  • Install flexible connections on gas appliances.
  • Remove or isolate flammable materials.
  • Move beds and children's play areas away from heavy objects which may fall in an earthquake.
  • Register at Embassy or Consulate serving your area; contact information is on the Embassy's website.

Essential Planning Before a Disaster

  • Draw a floor plan of your home showing the location of exit windows and doors, utility cut off points, emergency supplies, food, tools, etc.Share it with baby-sitters and guests.
  • Establish family meeting points with alternate sites inside and outside of your home for all members to gather in the event of an evacuation.
  • Establish reunion sites with alternate sites for when the family is not at home, e.g., local shelter, neighbor's house, park, school.
  • Designate a person outside of your immediate area for separated family members to call to report their location andcondition if separated.
  • Learn or establish disaster policy/planning at your children's school.
  • Know your neighbors and make them aware of the number of people living in your home.
  • Learn where the nearest designated shelter for your neighborhood is.
  • Photocopy passports and other important documents.Store copies away from home (for example, at work).
  • Learn how to contact the police, fire and rescue services in Japanese.Be able to provide your address in Japanese.

Essential Steps Immediately After a Disaster

  • Check your immediate surroundings for fire, gas leaks, broken glass and other hazards.
  • Open doors and/or windows to avoid being locked in if there are after-shocks.
  • Contact one friend or relative in the U.S., and ask them to inform other parties of your situation.
  • Monitor local TV and radio for evacuation information (If available in your area, for English info, listen to American Forces Network: AFN Tokyo-AM 810kHz, AFN Iwakuni-AM 1575kHz, AFN Sasebo-AM 1575kHz, AFN Okinawa-FM 89.1MHz).

Keeping in Touch: NTT’s 171 Disaster Line

The 171 Emergency Line is a voice message board service provided by NTT that is available when a disaster such as an earthquake or volcanic eruption occurs. If regular phone service is interrupted in the disaster-stricken area, this service can help keep in touch with family members and friends.

To utilize the service, U.S. citizens can simply dial 171 and then follow the instructions to record or listen to messages. To record a voice message, users dial 171, then 1 followed by their phone number. Concerned family and friends in Japan can hear the message by dialing 171, followed by 2 and the phone number. For detailed information on using the voice system, please see this link. Unfortunately, while detailed instructions in English exist on the website, the actual voice prompts are in Japanese only. Please note that the site lists days during which the public can practice using the service.

The voice-based messaging service is currently limited to domestic contacts. However, U.S. citizens can leave messages for family members overseas using NTT's Web 171 service. To post an Internet message, users need to go to the Web 171 site and enter their message and phone number. Messages can be viewed by typing in the phone number on the site. The site is currently closed, but will be opened in the event of an emergency. Web 171 also is in Japanese only. NTT has stated that it has no plans to offer this service in English. U.S. citizens interested in using either service, particularly those individuals with a limited knowledge of Japanese language, are thus strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with the detailed English instructions on NTT's website. Printing these and keeping them close to the family's emergency kit may also be a good idea.


Evacuations will likely occur after an earthquake when fires are spreading or buildings are in danger of being destroyed by landslides, etc. City police and fire authorities will issue evacuation advice.Americans, as well as others affected by the disaster, will need to seek assistance from the Japanese authorities.

To prepare, take a walking pre-survey of the designated place of evacuation nearest your home and office. Also be familiar with the location of the ward office and the telephone number of the Disaster Relief Headquarters for your ward. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has maps of evacuation points. You should phone your ward office and ask which evacuation points are nearest your home and office. Try to get detailed maps (with landmarks/street names in kanji as well) of those locations.

Even if your building is standing after the quake and you are not asked to evacuate, the evacuation points will have fresh water, food and medical supplies.

Useful Links

Earthquake Survival Manual (PDF 3,299 kb) is very useful.

Of particular value are bilingual sections on calling for help, communicating with emergency medical staff and phrases useful for locating food, water and shelter. In the aftermath of the 1995 Hanshin earthquake many Americans who could not speak Japanese had a difficult time seeking assistance. Sustainment assistance, such a water and shelter, will come from the Government of Japan for all residents in a disaster area equally - there will be no special accommodations for foreigners and the Embassy will not be able to provide special facilities or general evacuation for Americans.