Situated within the collision zone of the Circum-Pacific Belt, Japan is considered a disaster-prone country as the number of natural disasters occurring is relatively high compared to other parts of the world. As a subject to frequent natural disasters, Japan developed a disaster management system, which includes upgrading disaster information communication systems and weather forecasting technologies to respond to and mitigate vulnerability towards natural disasters. As a result, there is a significant decline in disaster risks and damages in Japan; unfortunately, it does not reduce the probability of large-scale natural disasters shortly.
Learning from the Past – Japan’s Disaster Management
In Japan, the turning point for strengthening the disaster management system developed as a response to the immense damage caused by Typhoon Ise-wan in 1959. The enactment of the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act issued in 1961 formulates a comprehensive and strategic disaster management system, establishing fundamental disaster prevention laws, which developed strategies to build cumulative and organised disaster prevention structures (Government of Japan, 2014). It has been amended constantly, with experiences taken from natural disasters happening all over Japan, including the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Learning from the Great East Japan Earthquake, the enhancement of support measures ensures the smooth and safe evacuation of residents and protection towards disaster victims has improved. Fundamental improvements in disaster management entail raising public awareness about evacuation before disasters, nationwide investments in innovative systems for monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis, strengthening tsunami early warning systems and additional retrofitting of homes and buildings to reduce earthquake damages.
Disaster Management System – Disaster Management Plans and Emergency Responses
The disaster management system consists of 4 plans spread across from the national level to the community level: Basic Disaster Management Plan, Disaster Management Operation Plan, Local Disaster Management Plan and Community Disaster Management Plan. The Basic Disaster Management Plan is a comprehensive, long-term disaster management plan that built the foundation for the Disaster Management Operations Plan and Local Disaster Management Plan. It stipulates provisions for establishing the disaster management system and promoting disaster management measures, acceleration of postdisaster recovery and reconstruction measures, and promotion of scientific and technological research on disaster management (Government of Japan, 2014).
Moreover, Japan’s disaster management system addresses all phases of disaster prevention: mitigation, preparedness, emergency response, recovery and rehabilitation. With specifications on the roles and responsibilities of national and local governments, assessments were made per the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act. In the event of a disaster, National and local governments will collect and share disaster-related information, securing communications to carry out efficient emergency rescues and medical operations (Government of Japan, 2014). Based on this gathered information, local governments will establish their operation mechanisms to grasp and analyse the situation, reporting the results to the Prime Minister, who will coordinate emergency measures to be taken by various organisations. Furthermore, disaster response units will dispatch immediately to assist in rescues.
Awareness Towards Disaster Risk Reduction – Planning and Preparedness
The severity of the events during and following the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) shows how Japan failed to prepare for and anticipate the disaster, neglecting the importance of identifying effective strategies pre-disaster. Now, after more than a decade, research efforts highlighted four central lessons after studying the GEJE disaster:
- A holistic, rather than a single-sector approach to disaster risk management (DRM) improve preparedness;
- Investing in prevention is not a substitute for preparedness;
- Each disaster is an opportunity to learn and adapt;
- Effective DRM requires bringing together diverse stakeholders, including various levels of government, community and nonprofit actors, and the private sector (Takemoto, 2021).
Additionally, specific prevention and mitigation strategies may include ‘self-help’ like raising awareness in the community and participating in evacuation drills to be prepared to take appropriate evacuation routes. It is necessary to encourage the public to coordinate with one another through ‘mutual support’, reducing damage in the community. Addressing measures to strengthen public relations with policies linked to public awareness allows reconstruction efforts to run smoothly and increase resilience across the nation.
Aside from public awareness, building regulations and standards were updated following the GEJE, enhancing the structural resilience of the built environment and improving seismic diagnosis of buildings. Volunteer organisations also rescue and preserve heritage properties, as they believe cultural properties play a role in healing communities sought by disasters (Takemoto, 2021). Hence, investing in resilient infrastructures and infrastructure restoration can reduce mega-disaster impacts.
Future Aspirations – Expansion and Improvement of Disaster Management
Over the last decade, Japan learned how to better prepare for and recover from low-probability high-impact disasters. Continuous reflection, learning and updating on what worked and what didn’t work after each disaster can develop the adaptive capacities needed to manage ever-increasing and unexpected risks. Preparedness is an incremental and interactive process (Takemoto, 2021). Japan benefits from emergencies and everyday operations when a crisis strikes by considering disaster preparedness.
- Disaster Management in Japan (2014) Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Government of Japan. Available at: https://www.bousai.go.jp/1info/pdf/saigaipanf_e.pdf (Accessed: February 21, 2023).
- Fee, W. (2023) From lessons of 3/11, Japan scientists share knowledge of disaster resilience across Pacific, The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/01/30/national/science-health/japan-researchers-disaster-lessons/ (Accessed: February 23, 2023).
- Ikeda, M. (2015) Knowledge Note 2-2 – Disaster Management Plans, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. United Nations. Available at: https://www.preventionweb.net/files/29163_drmkn221.pdf (Accessed: February 23, 2023).
- Information on Disaster Risk Reduction of the Member Countries (2019) Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC）. Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC）. Available at: https://www.adrc.asia/nationinformation.php?NationCode=392&Lang=en (Accessed: February 23, 2023).
- Takemoto, S., Shibuya, N. and Sakoda, K. (2021) Learning from Megadisasters: A Decade of Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake, PreventionWeb. World Bank. Available at: https://www.preventionweb.net/news/learning-megadisasters-decade-lessons-great-east-japan-earthquake (Accessed: February 23, 2023).
- 防災対策制度 (2017) 防災対策制度 : 防災情報のページ – 内閣府. Cabinet Office, Government of Japan. Available at: https://www.bousai.go.jp/taisaku/index.html (Accessed: February 23, 2023).