One thing that scares many foreigners living in Japan is an emergency alarm on the mobile phone. First, it is always unexpected, second, extremely loud, and third, only in Japanese so you have no clue what it is about (assuming super basic Japanese skills). For the first few seconds you are waiting what will happen next, considering whether you should already start going under your table or not yet, as generally that is supposed to mean an earthquake, and a sufficiently strong one.
Speaking from experience, a number of times the alarm appears to be a false one. During my almost five years in the country I’ve seen a few of those, be it lightening striking a seismic station which was misunderstood as the max level earthquake, be it potential landslides somewhere in the countryside far enough from my place in the city, be it… a “message” to stay at home during the Golden Week last Saturday morning. Given that as a non-Japanese speaker you cannot really read the message, it takes some time to figure out what is happening.
I am lucky there are many foreigners and also colleagues living in the same building and we also have a bonus of an English speaking concierge. The irony is that in case the alarm was true, you are not supposed to take an elevator, so concierge is not the first option to consider. If nothing happens within ten seconds or so, you try messaging colleagues or neighbours to see if they have more information. At the same time you already know that if nothing happened so far, probably nothing will.
Yet, sometimes, the alarm appears to be a real one as happened yesterday night. For the first time in almost five years, both my Japanese and my French mobiles went on alarm simultaneously. The French one was more “user friendly” and displayed an English message alongside the Japanese one – stay calm and seek shelter nearby.
Oh my, not that I would intend to go anywhere (I still think staying at home is the safest option) but I knew what to expect a couple of seconds before the actual earthquake started. It wasn’t that bad, the entire building was moving but still it wasn’t bad, at least in the area where I live. Last year I have been to a simulation of the March 2011 one, so comparing to that, this one was peanuts. Still, each time an earthquake starts your entire body goes on alert and pulse accelerates as you do not know how strong it may be. And each time you hear an emergency signal, a thought does cross your mind, what if…? What if that was a big one?
I am just hoping that nothing happens in the near future and while I am here… Not that I would wish that to anyone else, but scientists say it is a matter of when, not if. In the meantime, all we can do is to stay calm and enjoy the Golden Week to the extent possible with the covid-19 around.