Earthquake in Tokyo!

Article updated on May 18, 2020
Text: Claire Lessiau

We are on the 4th floor of a building in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo, just a few minutes after arriving in town. Seated at a table, suddenly, the ground under our feet starts shaking. We are hearing screams, the pieces of furniture are moving around: we are experiencing an earthquake! We jump out of our chairs to take shelter under the table grabbing a pillow on the way to cover our heads. We are firmly holding the feet of the table and making sure our bodies are underneath it so that they are protected from falling items. The ground is shaking harder. Chairs are moving around as well as the heavy table. The vibrations are starting to bruise our knees that are on the floor. As suddenly as it started, it all stops.

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White text with pictograms about what to do in case of an earthquake.

We get up on our feet and bow to thank the fire fighter in charge of the earthquake simulator at the Ikebukuro fire station and life safety learning center. We have just experienced an earthquake simulation of seismic intensity 7, corresponding to what Japanese from the north-eastern coast who were the closest to the epicentre tried to survive through on March 11, 2011 during the Great Eastern Japanese earthquake of magnitude 9. This is the greatest earthquake ever registered in Japan, causing a disastrous tsunami with a strong backwash and almost 300 resulting fires. 20,000 lives were taken. People were left homeless and some still are as of today. The beautiful north east coast of Japan was completely destroyed resulting in images similar to the ones we saw in Nagasaki and Hiroshima just after the atomic bombings. The nuclear power plant of Fukushima was badly damaged with dramatic long-term consequences still mostly covered up today. A long-period earthquake was felt all the way to Tokyo with high rise towers swaying like bamboos in the wind. More than 500 other earthquakes of smaller magnitude (5+) were recorded in the following 6 months.

Despite Japan’s know-how in terms of earthquake prevention and building norms, the country is still shocked. Japan is getting ready for a similar or even worse earthquake that is very likely to hit Tokyo anytime. The life safety learning centres are part of the readiness program to teach people what to do to overcome such a natural catastrophe.

That same evening, sipping a cocktail on the 35th floor of a high-rise tower in the Roppongi area, we felt a several-second shake, reminding us how much these threats are part of the daily lives of Japanese people and how important it is to be prepared.


Magnitude is a number that indicates the scale of the earthquake itself (up to 9). Seismic intensity indicates the extent of shaking at a specific location.

Travel tips:

  • There are several life safety learning centres in Tokyo. For the Ikebukuro one, no reservations are needed and the learning is free of charge. A leaflet in English will be provided, but tours are in Japanese.
  • Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!

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White text with pictograms about what to do in case of an earthquake.

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Pin this article of our Japan food series about Tempura for later! Emptpy street of the old Japense town Tsumago with traditional Japanese houses in the mountains. Smiling lady filling out a JRpass form for the train in Japan on a wooden desk in a station. White airplane wing above the clouds in blue skies, text about what to pack for Japan. Many orange Torii Gates with a stone path leading through and a lantarn hanging from the top, Fushimi Inari-taisha Kyoto, Japan. Japanese man in a kimono walking on wet asphalt along traditional Japanese houses in Kurokawa, Red circle with white text over three photos commemorating atomic bom victims in Japan. Old Japanese woman with white apron cooking a large bowl of soup in the early morning, Japan. Golden temple with reflections in the water, a Japanese temple with wooden roof, orange shrines and a Japanese garden with a pond and green moss.


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