Always be ready for a Disaster / Emergency

If you are living in Japan, it is absolutely essential to be prepared for an emergency.

This is not solely due to the tsunami that occurred a couple of years ago (yes, I was there); but it is something that has always been stressed and ingrained in the very fabric of modern Japanese culture. Schools, companies, government agencies, etc. routinely conduct extensive and frequent drills concerning various emergency / disaster scenarios. Responses are timed and training is given with regards to first aid medical assistance.

It is actually an amazing experience if you get a chance to be a part of it. The tools you learn and the amount of dedication, hard work, commitment and national participation that is placed into it, is indeed inspiring.

You are probably wondering at this point what has prompted this post. There have been no reported disasters or emergencies in Japan at the moment, so why mention this?

Actually, a couple of days ago, all of the schools in Iwamizawa (Hokkaido) were abuzz with the possibility of a terrible snow storm hitting Hokkaido within the week. Schools were already expecting to be snowed in, electrical outages, buses not working and the cancellation of some of the school festivals that would most likely be postponed. Among staff, contingency plans were discussed and settled to compensate for the loss of time / events that were scheduled for this week so that they could be fulfilled at a later date without compromising on the classes and upcoming exams of the following week. There was also mention that if the storm did hit, residents would most likely be confined to their homes until it subsided.

It then occurred to me that maybe a lot of people are unaware of all of the emergencies that do occur in Japan on a relatively frequent basis: the snow storms (Hokkaido), blizzards (Hokkaido), earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, lightning storms, thunder storms, fires . . .  And that it is very real and necessary to have that emergency bag and stash of goods ready at all times.

A normal snowy day in Iwamizawa - and yes - the snow gets that high and even higher!

A normal snowy day in Iwamizawa – and yes – the snow gets that high and even higher!

After experiencing the after effects of the tsunami and devastating earthquake, the list and guides below would truly be helpful to anyone in the future.

This is a general list of things that should be in your Emergency Stash:

  • First Aid Kit
  • General medication – headaches, flu, fever. pain, allergies
  • If you have a medical condition and are required to take particular tablets, injections, etc.; have extra doses for a few days available.
  • Copies of your passport, ID, etc.
  • Contact phone numbers and emergency numbers should be clearly printed
  • Extra phone (fully charged)
  • Small emergency radio that has to be cranked and / or solar powered
  • Portable charger
  • Have extra cash available. ATM’s may not work during this time.
  • Torchlights
  • Batteries
  • Lanterns
  • Candles
  • Matches / lighters
  • Extra kerosene
  • Thermal blankets
  • Regular blankets
  • Charcoal
  • Small, portable bar-b-que pit / coal pot (provide heat and possibly heat food. This should be used in an open area, not if you are confined in a closed small space or a fire could erupt.)
  • Scissors
  • Knife
  • Rope
  • *Swiss Army knife*
  • Flares
  • Whistles
  • Walkie talkies
  • Food that can be consumed without reheating or cooking – potato chips, for example
  • Water (for general use)
  • Drinking water
  • Sports drinks
  • Dried fruit
  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Jerky
  • Jam or jellies
  • Energy bars
  • Canned food – soups, beans, spam, cooked meat products, seafood
  • Can opener
  • Baby items (if there is a baby in the house) – pampers, formula, water, blankets
  • Battery powered fans
  • Battery powered heaters (for the cold)
  • Heat packs and sticky heating pads that could be placed under feet, on the back or stomach (for the cold)
  • A small tablet (iPad, Nexus for example) that is charged and could possibly be used for communication in emergency.

It should be noted that your emergency items should not be confined to just ‘one bag’. Instead, (in my opinion and experience) the following is recommended:

  • Main stash for the homePrepare an area where all of the items in your emergency kit could be easily found. This would also contain several bulkier items, including food products. Remember that food products should last a few days.
  • A back-pack per personHaving bags prepared in advance per person would make having to escape with essentials easier and faster. Additionally, in the unfortunate event of separation, it would ensure that each person would be catered for.
    • – Having a yoga mat, large sleeping bag (that could hold more than one person and / or children) and / or a tent could also be useful in the long run.
    • – A printed page with emergency phrases in the foreign language would also help. Place for children as well.
    • – Having the same copies of pictures in each bag with family members’ names and contact information is also a good idea.
    • – Remember to have a first aid kit and relevant documentation with you – as well as copies.
    • – Keep extra cash on hand. It may not be possible to withdraw funds from an ATM.
    • – Make sure that your bags are waterproof!
    • – Change of clothes and toiletries.
  • Remember to also pack for children – Having essentials already packed for children would also be helpful.
    • – Sewing or attaching contact details on the bag or clothes is also a good idea in the unfortunate event of getting lost.
    • – Pack a special toy,book, picture and blanket. If there are babies present, pack essentials, medicine, etc. for them as well.
    • –  Place extra cash with children as well.
    • – Change of clothes and toiletries.
  • Key areas of the homePlacing a torchlight, whistle, small medical kit, batteries, energy bars, tiny radio and phone in different areas of the house could be a lifesaver in times of emergency. These places should be areas where you spend the most time. For example: your bedside, kitchen, living area
  • For your car – Have an emergency stash available in your vehicle.
    • – Also, try to maintain a full tank of gas. It was very difficult to get gas when the tsunami and earthquake occurred; causing food deliveries to not be possible and necessary travel very expensive.
    • – Additionally, this is good to have in colder areas (like Hokkaido) in the unfortunate event that a blizzard occurs and you are somehow stuck in your vehicle.
    • – Remember to prepare for children as well.
  • Copy your key – Make a couple of copies of your house keys / apartment keys and give them to a trusted neighbour, friend and family member.

Please remember  . . . .

  • To always switch off your gas lines! Open gas lines during a terrible disaster could not only mean ‘FIRE!’, but also the inhalation of fumes that could render you unconscious or ill.
  • If there is a power outage, unplug devices. If devices were in use when the power was cut, switch them off and unplug.
  • It is good and beneficial to discuss emergency plans, responses and medical aid with your family and neighbours. Routine practice of emergency response is also greatly encouraged. This would help reduce feelings of confusion, fear and anxiety that normally occur in a disaster and give more focus to the situation at hand and how to respond to it.
  • Frequently change your batteries and check torchlights and whistles to ensure that they are working.
  • Ensure that stored food has not expired. Frequently check and refresh stored items.

If there are any other ideas or suggestions, please be sure to comment so that others could benefit from your thoughts!


Autumn in Hokkaido: Autumn needs and Stink bugs

DSC_0036Ah yes – Autumn!

And in Hokkaido, the chill starts earlier than the rest of Japan!

It is the time to start wearing that extra layer or light jacket to give you that extra warmth that is needed in that slightly oh so chilled air. The sunrise is a little later (Yay- sleep!) but the sun starts to set a little bit earlier.

One thing to start purchasing ( that would still be used in the winter months) is Heat Tech clothing.  It would seem to be a light jersey and /or tights to wear under your clothes – but it does provide extra warmth to your body. UNIQLO, a popular clothing store in all of Japan, has a variety of colours, styles and cuts for both men and women at very reasonable prices.

Start wearing a light scarf and mittens if the air is still a bit chilly for you. A nice thick sweater also helps.

You would notice that some people start to wear boots for the Autumn. This is not necessary (I wore my same shoes throughout – but then again, I like the cold! ) but the boots do provide added warmth to your feet when compared to the sneakers, heels or other normal shoes that we wear everyday in Trinidad.

If you are going to buy boots, make sure that they have some sort of grip. If they are smooth, there is a high risk of falling and injuring yourself – especially when it rains and everywhere is wet.


One thing that you may start noticing by early October is the number of stink bugs in your apartment that have somehow made it through every nook and cranny that cannot be seen by the eye. The chill air is kicking their instinct to get warm fast – and they try to do this by entering your nice heated apartment one way or another.

And when I say number – it is a big number! Sometimes, one would reach home and just see bugs everywhere!

Although they do not really pose a threat and will eventually die in your apartment; the truth is that if you try to catch them or hurt them in some way, their bodies get defensive – DEFENSIVE WITH A VERY STRONG, ODIOUS SCENT!


So, how could you protect your nose from such a defense in the future?

Let’s start off with some cautionary measures:

1. Resist the urge to vacuum the little guys. They would still release their scent glands.

2. Do not – I repeat – DO NOT mash, smash, squeeze or do anything that could cause them bodily harm! It not only releases the scent they are famous for, but causes an explosion of it!


What can you do?

First off, try your best to seal any cracks, openings or crevices in your apartment with silicone filler or tape. This is something that would have had to be done before the arrival of winter to prevent cold air from outside flowing in – so the presence of the stink bugs are a good reminder of that.

Avoid opening your windows and doors for prolonged periods of time. This is like an invitation that they are all waiting for! I sealed the windows of my apartment with tape – and this helped to greatly reduce the number of bugs in my apartment.

If you do open your windows and back door, make sure that the screen door is placed over the opening to prevent the bugs from finding their way inside!

Invest in a stink bug repellant and place by all cracks or spaces that they could be entering by.

There is a bottle of powder with red and yellow labeling that is used for stink bugs and other pests. This could be sprinkled at the base of the genkan door as well as by the windows (once they are sealed).

There is also a spray that is used. It has a very clear picture of a stink bug on it – so spray the apartment at least every other day to ensure it helps to repel.

Additionally, there are sprays that could be used on the window (side facing outside) to repel most pests. This is something that is definitely worth investing in – not just for Autumn but throughout the year. But it also helped in the fight against the stink.

After all of this, there would sometimes be one or two little guys who made their way into the apartment. What should you do?

Well, normally I would leave them alone. They seem quite happy to be warm and play around the bright light in the dining room. Plus, they normally die in a couple of days.


Autumn is also the perfect time to start your preparations for the coming Winter . . . which is normally a challenge here in Hokkaido.

My next post will cover some of the preparations that will make you “Winter Ready” for this challenge! So, look out for it!