Japan: A Visit to an Earthquake Simulator in Tokyo

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It’s frightening when the floor shakes and knocks you around as you crouch on the floor clinging to a table leg, furniture tumbling around you.  And that was only an earthquake simulation.  The floor really was shaking, we really were under a table clinging to a table leg, but the furniture was projected on big screens around us.

The Life Safety Training Centre run by the Tokyo Fire Department near Ikebukaro in Tokyo gives earthquake and fire training as a public service.  It trains local young cadets so that they are prepared for a real emergency and also members of the public. Lots of school groups go, or you can visit as an individual. The facility is really well equipped and explains to kids and adults alike what to do in an emergency fire or earthquake situation using hands-on activities and simulations.  Visitors to Tokyo are welcomed.

Katie and I have been talking about earthquakes since we had a slightly shaky Magnitude 4 a couple of weeks ago in the early hours as we were getting ready to make our way to Mount Fuji.  When Katie asked what we should do in an earthquake I wasn’t entirely sure.

We decided to find out.

Firstly, what do these magnitude figures mean? Japan has been hit by three devastating earthquakes this century, in 1923 the great Kanto Earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 which claimed the lives of more than 100000 people; the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 in Kobe (Magnitude 7) when more than 6000 people were killed; and the highest recorded Magnitude 9 in 2011 with the knock-on Fukishima disaster. Nepal’s 2015 earthquake was a 7.8, killed more than 10000, and injured tens of thousands of others.

Japan is situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the edge of a big band of moving tectonic plates. It has to take the possibility of earthquakes seriously. Schools carry out earthquake drills. Little bags on the back of school chairs at the school we visited yesterday carry earthquake helmets to protect each pupil.

The training centre explains what to do in an earthquake emergency simply, and turns earthquake training into a memorable and informative experience. Our group of 15 people were aged between about 6 and adult. There are no under 3s allowed in the simulation. We were the only non-Japanese speakers. There are subtitles for the main film and some poster have English translations. The firemen who take the tour use lots of gestures to help with understanding and are very approachable. The videos and cartoon are generally easy to understand although there were a few bits we didn’t pick up. It’s a hands-on experience so the language is not really an issue.

The tour lasts 1hr40 and is free. At the time of writing there are 3 full tours a day, at 9.30am, 1pm and 3pm.  Wear trainers.

Here is an 11 year old’s take on the centre.

So far in japan I’ve had a blast; seeing lots of different things, trying on a kimono… But the earthquake centre has got to be one of the best things that I’ve done so far.

When we got to the earthquake centre we were quite early so we waited about an hour till the next tour [tours can be organised in advance at http://www.tfd.metro.tokyo.jp/np-ikbskan/; we were lucky there were a few spaces left]. In that time mum and I tried on all the equipment a fireperson would wear (a helmet, a really thick and waterproof jacket, a belt).

Fire safety rescue centre Tokyo

The jackets are really heavy.

After we tried on all the clothes there was about 30 mins left to wait till the next tour. So we went for a little walk around the main reception. We were looking at a model of a house that had just been through an earthquake and we also looked at a house that had all these special protections against the earthquake (the first house was totally destroyed and the second house there was only a bottle that fell over and nothing else!!)

Fire safety training center Ikebukaro

Where you put furniture, and also how you join it to the wall is important if there’s an earthquake.

The fire safety room.

The fire safety room – you can squirt water at that big screen to put out the “fire”.

We walked around, took pictures and looked at emergency hats and gear it was time to go on the tour!! I was soooo…. excited. The first thing we did was: we went into this big room with about 10 other people and the fireman then we watched a film in Japanese about fire (it was easy to understand because of the pictures). The film lasted about 15 mins. And the funny fireman was explaining how to use a fire extinguisher. You take out the pin, lift up the hose, and push the lever. “PIN, HOSE, LEVER!” we had to shout.

He showed us how it worked and there was a big screen that had fake fire on it and he put the fire out with extinguisher. We all took turns to put the fire out with the extinguisher!! It was really fun!!

Then he was explaining about different types of fire ( the ones that are the most common in the kitchen) – the bin (putting a cigarette in it), a gas cooker and a microwave with the electric. And he was explaining you might get an electric shock if there’s plugs involved and don’t have a deodorant can near either because it can make an explosion!!!

We went into another room and we watched a film about the danger of breathing in smoke. If you run away from fire you can faint because you are breathing in the smoke. But if you either crawl or walk out and put a cloth around your mouth that’s the right way to do it as calmly as you can. The cartoon was also in Japanese but still very easy to understand.

We took turns to go into a house with no lights and fake smoke and find the way out.

The fireman switched off the lights and added smoke to the room, and we watched each other coming out the house on the video screens.

The fireman switched off the lights and added smoke to the room, and we watched each other coming out the house on the video screens.

Then we moved on to a room with a table in the middle and a few chairs. Some of us sat down and then the floor started to shake so we had to go under the table and hang on to the table leg till it had finished – it wasn’t a real earthquake it was just the funny fireman pressing a button to make the floor shake. Our simulation earthquake was 7.3. [Mum – it was way shakier than I imagined it would be, I had a job holding onto the table leg].

Then we moved onto the last room were we watched a film about the earthquake “Hanshin Awagi” in 1995. 35000 people were trapped in their houses. The strength of the earthquake was the same as the simulation. The film lasted about 20 mins. After that it was the end of the tour I was quite sad because the tour was finished and it was so good!! ;(

Fire safety training center

The earthquake in 1995.

2-37-8 Nishi-Ikebukuro,Ikebukuro Fire Department 4F
Postal code:171-0021
(It’s a 5 minute walk from Ikebukaro station)

Disclaimer: this blog post is about our experience at the Centre.  It does not intent to give safety advice.  Please check that out elsewhere, or if you ever get the chance, visit this great facility.

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