Disaster Drill in Kyoto

The Japanese society is one of the most well organized, well trained, and well educated in the world. In some cases even somewhat overly so. For natural disasters, though, one can not be prepared enough.

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Disaster drills are regularly conducted throughout the everyday life of Japanese citizens, starting as early as preschool. Cities carry out frequent exercises how to use fire extinguishers, post reminders where to stand in case of earthquakes, and point out shelters in train stations.

Districts have designated members who lead these exercises and they meet early in the morning for a full-day event.

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I have experienced one company-wide drill during an internship at Omron and performed two disaster drills myself at Ritsumeikan university, guiding about 100 students from the lecture halls to the common assembly point.

This time was a first to participate at the locally organized disaster drill–as part of the Kamigyo-ku ward. Although early in the morning on a weekend, close to two hundred people showed up. Common things to see at these practices: a room with near-zero field of vision (simulating smoke in case of a fire) or a platform mimicking an earthquake.

I got to experience the former and was impressed by the immediate disorientation and necessity to rely on auditory queues only.

Events were planned for half a day and I took the chance to document the first few hours. It was an impressive display of organization and collaboration, including city hall staff, police, firefighters, and volunteers.

One of the first displays was how to use two large bamboo sticks and two jackets to built an ad-hoc stretcher. The kid being the center of the action had a blast.

Another demonstration was the fast, effective and clean removal of debris, here in the form of tree trunks. Within a few minutes, five workers removed everything without a trace.

A last debris-related demonstration was the destruction of cupboards, some containing glass. The same precise, almost choreographed process took less than ten minutes.

The last show was a mobile water supply setup, ready within minutes of arrival. Each leading member of a city ward/block had the chance to test how it works.

The philosophy of "Kaizen" has become famous worldwide, mostly from the business world and found its way into other facets of society, such as education and event management. Mosts impactful scenes from past disasters are reenacted to educate the public about best practices.

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