Understanding the Tumultuous Typhoons in Japan

WeXpats
2021/05/17

When visiting Japan, it is important to check the weather beforehand to minimize risks of encountering a disaster. Let’s learn about Japan’s climates, typhoons, and what to do in the event of a typhoon so you can best be prepared and not caught unawares while in Japan.


Table of Contents

  1. When is the typhoon season in Japan?
  2. Japan's Safety Precautions Against Typhoons
  3. Biggest Typhoons to Hit Japan
    1. Mireille (1991)
    2. Songda (2004)
    3. Jebi (2018)
    4. Hagibis (2019)
  4. Typhoon Safety Guidelines and Tips
    1. Things to Prepare
    2. What to do During
    3. What to do After
  5. In Conclusion

When is the typhoon season in Japan?

If you are not familiar with typhoons, just imagine a huge, giant rotating storm that brings about destruction in its wake. Also called cyclone or hurricane in other parts of the world, this giant rotating storm is followed by heavy rains that can overflow rivers and terrifyingly strong winds that can blow away roofs and cars.

Japan’s typhoon season starts in the summer month of August till early autumn in October with most typhoons occurring in August and September. Do note however that there are the occasional small typhoons that pass by all year round. On average, 26 typhoons pass by or through Japan a year and only about 10 of them actually reach the country’s coast with even less (around 2 or 3) making landfall.

※ The Japan Times, "Typhoons more predictable but still deadly"
※ Japan Meteorological Agency, "Climatology of Tropical Cyclones"

Japan’s Safety Precautions against Typhoons

Having experienced several times the frightfulness of typhoons, Japan has taken various steps to minimize or if possible prevent damage to its cities and uphold the safety of the people in Japan. Here are some examples of Japan’s preparations to brace itself against typhoons.

Tokyo Flood Control Channel

I.e. Metropolitan Outer Area Underground Discharge Channel (MOUDC) is an underground water channel spanning 6.3km of linked tunnels connected to several surface river charge ducts built by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT). Its purpose: the prevention of flooding in Tokyo by rerouting water into the Edo River. Initialized in 1993, the channels were fully completed in 2006 after 13 years. 

On regular non typhoon days, the MOUDC is open for visiting. Tours are available at varying prices from 1,000 yen to 3,000 yen per pax. It’s also been used for films and tv shows as a filming location so you might recognize it from somewhere. 

※ Financial Times, "Japan: Pillars of Resilience"

Weather Monitoring Equipment

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) continuously monitors the weather for signs of weather disasters using a state of the art Automated Meteorological Data Acquisition System (AMeDAS). The system measures rainfall, air temperature, wind speed, and wind direction to predict the probability of disasters occuring and alert the people if necessary. 

※ Disaster Management, Cabinet Office, "Disaster Management in Japan," p.26

Evacuation Centres and Information Dissemination 

Additional evacuations centres were allocated in each municipality to accommodate the increased population and secure basic living conditions of evacuees including provision of food and water supplies, blankets, and medical supplies.

Whether it is precautionary alerts to standby against a disaster, orders to evacuate or disaster information, Japan uses a wide range of methods to ensure important information reaches the people, such as:

Biggest Typhoons to Hit Japan

Let’s have a look at some of the biggest typhoons that ever hit Japan and the destruction wrought upon the country.

Mireille (1991)

Typhoon Mireille hit Japan in September 1991, it was recorded then as the most destructive typhoon that Japan had ever experienced (now overridden by Jebi and Hagibis). Hiroshima and Kyushu where the typhoon made landfall took the brunt of the damage as the typhoon weakened the more it moved inland. 62 people were killed by the typhoon whilst almost 3,000 were injured. According to Air Worldwide, the total insured damages were 573 billion yen (at that time) covering the destruction of almost 200,000 houses, agriculture and forestry! If the same event occured in present day Tokyo, the damage is estimated to be more than 900 billion yen.  

※ Air-Worldwide, "AIR Currents" 
※ HJ Andrews Experimental Forest LTER, Japan - United States Science and Technology Agreement, "Proceedings of the Third Workshop for Natural Disaster Reduction"

Songda (2004)

The Chugoku Region of Japan was heavily hit by Typhoon Songda. The heavy rains and strong winds destroyed crops and collapsed as many as 132 houses in its wake, with more than 6,000 houses half-collapsed, and 60,000 more partially damaged. Around 41 people were killed in its wake as recorded by the Disaster Information of Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC).

※ Asian Disaster Reduction Center (ADRC), "Disaster Information"

Jebi (2018)

Typhoon Jebi slammed into Kansai, Japan causing tremendous damage to Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Mie, Aichi and Shiga prefectures. A total of 17 victims lost their lives to Jebi’s relentless attack.  The devastation of Jebi overtook typhoon Mireille as the costliest typhoon in Japan. So strong was it that shrines and historical buildings including the arches of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto were damaged by fallen trees, nearly 3 million households went without electricity, Kansai International Airport was closed down, tankers were destroyed, and more. The total amount of insured losses is around 12 to 13 billion USD (gasp)! 

※ Japan Meteorological Agency, "High-level Dialogues on Tropical Cyclones," p.4

Hagibis (2019)

After Jebi, Japan was hit by Hagibis, a super typhoon. At this point, you’re probably thinking that typhoons should cut Japan some slack. The damage by the Category 1 was catastrophic, if you thought Jebi was bad, Hagibis was monstrous. Because of its extensive rain and strong winds that caused power outage and uncontrollable flooding, the Japanese government was forced to approve a special budget to fund rescue efforts and emergency fixes. Japan suffered roughly 15 billion USD in damages, the highest record ever in history. 

※ NPR, "Japan's Prime Minister Warns Of 'Prolonged' Effects Of Typhoon Hagibis' Destruction"
※ AON Benfield, “Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight, 2019 Annual Report

Typhoon Safety Guidelines and Tips

Are you expecting a typhoon to hit during your visit to Japan? Or just to not be caught off guard. Here are some guidelines to prepare for a typhoon, what to do during one, and how to proceed in the aftermath. 

Things to prepare before a typhoon hits

Travel Planning

As the saying goes, better safe than sorry. Check if your travel dates coincide with any incoming typhoons. If it does, consider rescheduling your trip. Good sources of information include Japan news sites, social media, and weather forecasts. The biggest impact on travelers will probably be regarding transportation, as train lines may shut down early in anticipation of big storms. 

Research your Area

Learn the emergency exits and evacuation routes of the hotel you are staying in. Check where the nearest evacuation centres are. If your hotel is located near a river or on a hilly area, check if it is within a hazardous zone in case of flooding or landslides. 

Emergency Preparation

Prepare emergency supplies and emergency evacuation backpack. As much as you are tempted to secure and bring with you all your luggage (oh no, my souvenirs), your life is more important so bring the essentials only. These include:

  • Waterproof backpack

  • Important documents (passport, resident card, my number card, health insurance card, cash, credit card)

  • One set of spare clothing (underwear, shirt, pants, socks)

  • Dry food (calorie mate, food bars, biscuits, instant ramen, etc. long lasting items)

  • Water 

  • Tools (work gloves, lighter, torchlight)

  • Sanitary items (toilet paper, wet wipes, tissue, deodorant, plastic bags, hand towels, face masks)

  • Comfort (towel, blanket, pocket warmers, travel pillow)

  • Medication (if you are on long term medication)

  • Electronics (spare batteries for torchlight, portable charger, phone)

  • Entertainment (pack of cards or book to keep the boredom away)

TIPS

  • All visitor accommodation establishments (hotels, ryokans, B&Bs) MUST prepare torchlights in guest rooms. Find it and check whether it is properly charged.

  • Ready-to-use Emergency Evacuation Backpacks (非常用持出袋) are purchasable online or in some stores if you don’t fancy preparing your own. 

  • Umbrellas aren’t going to be much help if you need to evacuate. Prepare a raincoat, waterproof pants, and waterproof boots to brave the storm. 

What to do during the typhoon

If you need to evacuate, then evacuate. If not then at this point, there’s nothing much that you can do but stay safe indoors. Close the windows and curtains and keep away just in case something smashes against the windows.

Make sure you periodically tune in to the news for updates about the typhoon.

What to do after the typhoon

Double check that the typhoon has indeed passed by checking the news and social media. If it is safe to, you can continue on with your travel plans bearing in mind that some public transport may be out of service so some changes to your plans may be necessary. If you’d prefer to return home, check if access to the airport is available and flights are up and running. If in doubt, there are various hotlines catering to foreigners available or inquire with the hotel receptionist who may be able to help you.

In Conclusion

It is important to understand that typhoons are fairly common in the Asia-Pacific Region. Therefore with proper preparations and adequate, you can still enjoy your travels. So have fun, but most importantly, stay safe! 

Writer

WeXpats
Here to provide a variety of articles from useful information about life, working, and studying in Japan to Japan's charms and attractive qualities.

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