Coping with earthquakes in Japan

I’m sure all of you have heard about the earthquakes that have occurred in Kumamoto, Japan earlier this month.

I’m sure all of you have heard about the earthquakes that have occurred in Kumamoto, Japan earlier this month. Thank you to those people who contacted me to make sure that I was all right; I appreciate it.

Kumamoto is located in southern Japan on the island of Kyushu, which is roughly 2,200 kilometres away from Toyokoro on the northern island of Hokkaido.

I have experienced a few earthquakes during my time here in Japan, with the two largest registering at 5.2 and 6.7 on the Richter scale.

No damage was caused in Toyokoro during these earthquakes, but they both definitely gave me a scare.

All cellphones is Japan are programmed to give earthquake warnings. This warning is called the Earthquake Early Warning system, which issues warnings from the Japan Meteorological Agency. The warning consists of an SMS message along with a loud siren. This early warning technology became mandatory for all cellphones in Japan in 2007.

Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, having more than 100,000 earthquakes every year.

Japan has developed a scale that differs from the Richter scale. The scale is called the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale. Its purpose is to measure the intensity of earthquakes using the units ‘shindo’, which means ‘degree of shaking.’

The scale runs from zero to seven. This number indicates what people feel when they are experiencing an earthquake. This number does not always correlate to the Richter scale magnitude of the quake. The recent quakes in Kumamoto registered at 6.2 and 6.8 in magnitude, however they registered as a six to seven on the JMA scale.

The earthquake that I experienced in Toyokoro was a 6.7 magnitude on the Richter scale, however only registered as a four on the JMA scale, meaning that the quake was felt to a much lesser extent and therefore less harm to structures and people.

I think that the JMA scale is interesting and helpful in explaining what people feel during the earthquake.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the largest in the country’s history, hit Fukushima.

A married couple in Toyokoro lived in Fukushima at the time of the earthquake. During our last class we began talking about the earthquake in Kumamoto, and our conversation digressed to talking about the Fukushima earthquake. I would like to share the Ikedas story of the Fukushima earthquake and how it has changed their lives.

The Ikedas lived in a small village within the Fukushima prefecture, approximately 25 kilometres away from the Fukushima I (F1) Nuclear Power Plant. Ikeda-san was at home working in his workshop while his wife was at work when the earthquake hit. He said he ran out of his workshop during the quake and watched his house shake and sway. Their house did not collapse, and when the shaking stopped he found only a small crack on the side of the house. He went inside and found many things had fallen off the shelves and out of cupboards. He said the most damage in their house was in the pantry where all their canned pickles, jams, and fruits had fallen and there was glass and food everywhere.

As a result of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the F1 nuclear power plants underwent equipment failures, which resulted in nuclear meltdowns and release of radioactive material. Because the Ikedas’ home was located only 25 kilometres from the power plant, they were ordered to leave.

Their son was at university at the time, so they had to pick him up. Once they got their son they had to drive to Ikeda-san’s mother’s home, which was a few hours away. They ended up living with her for the next month, until they were allowed to return home.

The Japanese government deemed their neighbourhood within a safe enough level of radiation for older people, but unsafe for children. Residents within a 30-kilometre radius of the power plant were subsidized by the government up to $1,000 Canadian per person for one year.

Residents within a 20-kilometre radius are still receiving these payments.

While the Ikedas were able to live in their home, they did not feel safe and began looking for a new place.

Ikeda-san’s father had left him a piece of land in Taiki, Hokkaido, about 50 kilometres south of Toyokoro. This property is what brought the Ikedas to Hokkaido, but due to agricultural restrictions they were unable to build on the land in Taiki and ended up finding a home in Toyokoro.

They moved to Toyokoro three years ago. Since they left Fukushima, they have been trying to sell their house. They were able to sell their home to a construction company in December 2015.

The company is constructing a tunnel in the neighbourhood and will be using their home to house workers during that time.

The Ikedas have been through a lot over the past five years. I am happy they decided to settle here in Toyokoro and have shared their stories with me and allowed me to get to know them over this past year.

Allyssa Hooper is in Summerland’s sister city of Toyokoro, Japan as the assistant English teacher.