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Japanese Words Made for Earthquakes and Other Disasters

Following the magnitude 6.1 earthquake that recently hit Kansai, the floods and landslide in western Japan and the current nationwide heatwave, it’s time to look at some words for these terrifying natural occurrences.

By 3 min read

地震じしん だ (It’s an earthquake). 地震だ . My phone screamed at me as the bed rose and shook as if possessed by the demonic force from The Exorcist.

地震だ? No kidding! I thought as I was thrown back and forth and the sound of breaking glass filled the room.

After I’d calmed down enough to talk to my neighbors, I suddenly found a lot of new words being used. One I had never come across was 脱出だっしゅつ ルート (escape) and 避難路ひなんろ (escape route).

Other words that came up a lot were the various ranks of the Richter Scale as people tried to work out how big the quake that had just hit us was. In Japan, earthquakes are categorized into seven levels known as 震度しんど . Each level also has two subdivisions marked じゃく(lesser) and きょう (greater). So a 震度6弱 is strong enough that most people will find it difficult to stand; whereas a 震度6強 is strong enough that people will likely have to ろくきょう (crawl) from the room.

Of course, the strength of the earthquake depends on the proximity of it to you and your place. The most dangerous place to be is the 震源地しんげんち (epicenter). After the initial hit, there are the 震動しんどう (tremors) that affect the surrounding area and these are later followed by 余震よしん (aftershocks).

For people in the Kansai region, the earthquake was the most terrifying event of the year. Unfortunately, recently each prefecture has had something to deal with whether it was the 洪水こうずい (floods) in western Japan, 火事かじ (fires), the 猛暑もうしょ (heat wave) that Japan is currently sweltering under or even the 噴火ふんか (volcanic eruption) and resulting 雪崩なだれ (avalanche) at Mt. Kusatsu-Shirane.

One of the golden rules for surviving the aftermath of an unexpected natural disaster is to be prepared.

These unfortunate events have lead to Japanese learners being forced to absorb new words like 被害ひがい (harm), 避難ひなん する (to take refuge) and even 死亡fatalities (fatalities).

Considering all of this, one of the things that the shaking up of both my room and my life brought home to me was that my preparations for the earthquake or any other emergency event were utterly inadequate. Many of my neighbors were clutching 対策たいさく or 防災ぼうさい グッズ (emergency goods prepared in case of an earthquake) — whereas I had brought nothing except my wallet and mobile phone!

One of the golden rules for surviving the aftermath of an unexpected natural disaster is to be prepared. The 非常持ひじょうもひん (emergency goods) that you have in your pack should include things like みず (water), 乾燥かんそ対策グッズ (dehydrated foodstuffs) and, of course, a 救急きゅうきゅう (first-aid kit). It can also be useful 備蓄品びちくひんそなえる (to stockpile dried goods) just in case.

Hopefully, everyone is recovering from the recent disasters and emergencies. For all our readers: don’t forget to prepare your 対策グッズ, pack that 救急セット and for the people caught up in the Kansai quakes don’t forget to reset your gas if it has been unpredictable since the quake. While we should be aware of being prepared for the worst to happen at all times, fingers crossed that these words for earthquakes and natural disasters are not words that we will need again for a long time.

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Japan101: Natural Disasters, Accidents and Emergencies

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