Japan’s early-warning Earthquake System and the technology that will save you

Elephants also hide under tables during earthquakesWhat with all these earthquakes we’ve had lately here in Tokyo I thought I’d take a look at some pretty cool technology that might actually save your life when the big one hits.

But first, lets go back to Tuesday 5am when south eastern Japan was struck by a quake that registered 6.9 on the Japanese scale. It was the first one I’d experienced since moving to our 30 year old house in Meguro, and boy did it freak me out. In order to survive tremors, Japanese houses are designed to be flexible – rather than try and resist the movement, they go with the flow – thus walls will sway, glass-doors will bang against each other and bookshelves will attempt to walk across the floor (unless you tether them to window frames as we’ve done).

Old Houses like to swing

Until now I’ve nearly always lived in modern concrete apartments, which whilst flexible, are pretty quiet when dancing to the waves. It’s pretty surreal seeing concrete walls flex.

When quakes strike this place however, it sounds like a chorus of old wheelbarrows playing along to a symphony of barn doors – the creaking and rattling are loud enough to convince you that the place really is about to fall down, even if the quake is only a relatively minor one – such as this week’s – which whilst a 6.9 at the epicenter a couple of hundred miles from Tokyo, was only a 4 on the Japanese earthquake scale here in Tokyo.

In a major quake, Twitter will be the death of me

Rather worryingly, looking back at what I chose to do during this earthquake made me realize that technology may well be the death of me, as whilst *Twinkle* was hurridly getting dressed ready to run for the door, I was desperately trying to be the first one to get news of the quake out on Twitter and the other social networks, whilst simultaneously trying to judge if the house was going to fall down.

(At least if I were to be trapped in the house due to twitter activity I’d be able to tweet my location using the iPhone’s GPS function, complete with a video showing what it’s like to be stuck under a pile of rubble. Being a regular user of the Tokyo Metro, I have plenty of practice of using my iPhone in places where the only movement one can make is a twitch of the thumb).

Getting information on earthquakes in Japan: the Met office’s early-warning system

Following that, heart pounding but brain still asleep, I desperately stabbed at the keyboard trying to remember the web address of Japan’s meteorological office that provides reports on earthquakes. This website will be the first to be updated whenever there’s an earthquake in japan – typically about 1-2 minutes after a quake strikes, thus it’s a good one to bookmark and add to your iPhone’s home screen.

A few moments later the quake ended, and as I scanned through the live updates of other Twitter users in Japan, so my eye was caught by one written by @genkiu:

“My Cellphone just gave me a Red Alert before the quake. That is soooo cool.”

What? You have to be kidding me!

Well, it turns out that Japan’s early-warning earthquake system, which began operation a couple of years ago, now not only automatically sends alerts to train lines and elevators, but also to cellphones on the NTT DoCoMo and AU networks in the affected area.

How the early-warning system works

First installed in 2006 for government and industry, and then expanded to include the general public in 2007, Japan’s early warning system is one of the most advanced in the world. The principles of the system are pretty simple.
Earthquake early warning system

Earthquakes produce two waves: the first is the faster ‘P’ wave which is relatively non-destructive due to its relative lack of shakiness (technical term that).
The second is a slower ‘S’ (Secondary) wave – this typically moves at about 60% of the speed of the first, and is highly destructive.

The Early Warning System basically works by detecting that faster P wave, calculating the intensity and epicentre location using data from multiple monitoring stations, and then automatically sends a warning to the network used by end subscribers (such as nuclear power plant operators and cellphone companies).

Of course, the closer you are to the epicentre, the less warning you’ll have.

How to get warnings of incoming earthquakes on your cellphone

Here’s links to instructions for the different cellphone networks (Japanese)

Switching this function on is easy – its just a matter of selecting it on your handset menu – as I did with *Twinkle’s* (in the Cmail menu, 4th option).

A few seconds before a quake strikes, you’ll be alerted by your phone making the sound of a claxon and a text message providing basic information on the strength and location of the quake. This will give you time to crawl under a table or dive to the other side of the room to catch your TV.

iPhone users

If you’re an iPhone user, whilst we can’t yet get early warnings from Softbank, there’s a very cool app that does give you all the vital details within minutes of it occurring. It’s called “今日の地震+” (Kyou no jishin + / Today’s Earthquakes+), and once installed, this free app will automatically push the details to your iPhone like an SMS, typically within a few minutes of it occuring. Note that at the moment the push service is over-subscribed, but they are enabling it for 1000 more users every day.

Early-warning-equipped homes

Speaking to my Japanese teacher @namynami, I heard an even more incredible story of the early warning system in action. A friend of hers has recently moved into a new apartment block, which is equipped with the early-warning system. This week, they were woken by a pre-recorded announcement warning of the quake no less than 24 seconds prior to it hitting – ample time to get on twitter and warn the world before the internet connection is severed by a building collapse.

It should be noted that this amount of pre-warning was only possible as they were situated a fair distance from the epicentre (the epicentre was to the west of the Izu Peninsula, they live in Chiba), but nonetheless, very groovy.

Early-warning equipped elevators

As mentioned above, new elevators also use this system. Until now, they’ve had to make do with standard motion sensors. Located at the bottom of lift shafts, when a quake strikes they automatically apply the brakes. However, more recent elevators have a second sensor mounted at the top of the shaft, which is connected wirelessly to the early warning system. Upon receiving notification of the incoming quake, the lift will stop and wait. Then, when the shaking’s come and gone, the elevator will slowly move to the nearest exit and open the doors.


All gas metres in Japan must by law have motion sensors so as to switch off when a quake strikes. It would only make sense to add a remote trigger operated by the gas company via the government’s early warning system (perhaps this is already being done?).

Anti-earthquake buildings

There are many techniques used to earthquake -proof buildings.

For example, Yokohama’s Landmark Tower, the country’s tallest building at present, was built using a special structure similar to that used in the construction of traditional Pagodas (none of which have been felled by the many earthquakes that have hit Japan over the past few hundred years).

There’s also of course houses built on ball bearings (not unlike the one that fell down in this video), those with balls suspended at the tope of them (see the one in Taipei 101 in action) and more recently floating buildings.

One can see though that this really is only the beginning. As the early-warning system learns so the alerts should become more accurate, and of course we’ll see all phone operators signed up to provide warnings. Additionally, wireless technology will continue to develop, allowing more devices to easily receive warnings.

Early-warning equipped Shoes

But it also won’t be long before we start to see alert-equipped shoes. Upon receiving the report wirelessly from Japan’s Met office, they will deploy these miniature wheels and drive you out of the building you’re in to the nearest open space. Don’t believe me? See the pictureEarthquake shoes test run.

Early-warning equipped coasters for T-Pots

One of my worst earthquake fears is that our Laura Ashley T-pot will fall off the top shelf and smash to ground when the big one strikes. However, early-warning anti-smash pad prototypes for things like T-Pots and glasses are now being developed. Ordinarily, they’ll just be like miniature coasters stuck to the bottom of your best china, but when the wireless alert is received, a tiny suction capsule will be triggered, locking the T-pot to the surface it’s standing on.

Early-warning equipped Sushi

Additionally, new conveyor belt sushi restaurants are being equipped with emergency-breaking systems, and the chairs of Japan’s workaholic salarymen now often come with hydraulic seats that flip them under their desks, along with their computers.

Cigarette vending machines become life savers

Japan Tobacco is constantly looking for ways to improve its image, whether by teaching us what is make-up we don’t want to see or by sponsoring a volleyball team.

They are now planning to turn their network of 45,000 cigarette vending machines into emergency shelters*. When a quake strikes, the vending machine will open, allowing small children to step inside and be protected from falling buildings. Cynics point out though that this is just another attempt to recruit smokers, as the meals provided inside the vending machine (enough for up to three days) are laced with nicotine, and when one’s finished eating a recorded message comes on saying “Time for an after dinner cigarette perhaps?”, presenting a free box.

Well, whatever their motives, I think these innovative uses of technology to make our lives safer are very welcome. No doubt we’ll see great leaps forward in earthquake countermeasures, so when the big one does finally strike we should fare better than they did in 1923.

* This is not true

Uchimizu in Akiba and Eclipse-climb summary

I’m reposting my last two contributions for the Metpod, as I know most mumblers don’t listen to it what with it being made for people living in Tokyo and all.

We’ll start with my most recent contribution, talking about the Uchimizu performance that went on last weekend in Akiba (to play it without leaving this page see the little grey player below)

Uchimizu in Akiba 3.5mb MP3

Next up, my summary of the Mt Fuji hike which went out last week.

I’m enjoying creating these. I like the time limit, and the necessity for a script. I feel it’s good practice.


Catching up on a backlog of minor editing / blogging jobs this evening. It’s neverending!


The making of: Behind the Curtain at the Cirque du Soleil Theatre Tokyo

George and Joseph at the Cirque du Soleil TokyoSo finally, today, we released our Cirque du Soleil video special, filmed a few weeks back at their theatre here in Tokyo.

Filming was a lot of fun. Being taken backstage and hearing the stories behind the show was a real treat, as was trying on the costumes and trying out our own routine of course.

It was when filming finished that the challenge began for me. iMovie, the basic program I’ve used for editing movies up until now wouldn’t cut it, so I had to use Final Cut instead. Final cut is a pro-video editing suite, and for a novice like me it presented a lot of challenges. So much so that I was reluctant to open it – which to a certain extent accounts for the delay in getting the final piece out there.

The second issue was that we don’t have the right equipment for what we’re trying to do. What you see in the videos below was mainly filmed using two Sony digital still cameras which happened to have video functions on them, with audio mostly provided by an iPhone. One of them has a habit of refocusing halfway through interviews with clowns, whilst the other will cut off after 10 minutes. Also, despite them all being digital devices the timing was a little squiffy, and made editing extremely time consuming. We want to buy a decent HD recorder with plug-in mic capabilities – but without funding this is currently not an option, so we’re making do with what we have.

Despite the dodgy camera work and amateur nature of the piece, I am quite proud of it. Mainly because it represents my pushing myself beyond my current comfort zone, exploring the unknown. I’m thinking it will be a piece that I look back and laugh at due to its inadequacies.
(The following is not just about this one video, but applies to all of the audio and video podcasts I’ve put out these past 6 months).
But that’s OK. Before we started this podcast series I decided to give myself permission to produce stuff that wasn’t as good as I ideally would like it to be. That’s not because I don’t care about the quality of what I put out, but is instead because I want to allow myself to explore and learn as a child might, without fear of what others might think. It’s the best way to learn. People may criticise the poor sound quality or dodgy editing, but that’s OK, because I know that I did my best, and that’s all that matters. I’m doing the best I can with the resources (including time, equipment and skills) I currently have to hand, and I look forward to seeing my resources slowly increase so as to allow me to produce better-quality content.

There were scenes I had imagined would be a part of it that never materialised, partly due to the unfortunate timing of our visit (it coincided with the start of a holiday at the circus). That’s OK though. We’re not disappointing anyone, as we never promised anything and have not been paid to do any of this!

Thinking about whether or not this will be a ‘success’, well, for me, it already is a success. The real achievement was in producing it. Whether it is watched a lot or not is, for me personally, not all that important (although I am happy to note that today we broke the 8000 download mark).

The thing is, life is like music. And the point is never what comes at the end. It’s all about what happens when we’re on our way towards the end (Alan Watts)

And that’s what this is all about. The process.
Anyway, enough of my talk. On with the show.

(cross post from www.japanpodshow.com)

Joseph and George at the Zed TheatreEver since they were children, Japan Podshow presenters George and Joseph had wanted to join a circus. Following months of clowning around in the Japan Podshow studio, in the summer of 2009 they were fortunate to be invited behind the curtain at the world-famous Cirque Du Soleil Theatre Tokyo (“Circus of the Sun” シルク・ドゥ・ソレイユ シアター東京.

Click here to subscribe to Japan Podshow and watch it on iTunes / your iPod / iPhone / media player. Or, download the short version direct from here [.mp4 56mb]

Cirque du Soleil

Founded in 1984, this incredible company [official site] now has 16 shows running around the world – in Las Vegas alone over 9,000 people witness the spectacle on a daily basis.


In the Autumn of 2008 Cirque Du Soleil’s first permanent show in Japan, Zed, opened to the public in a special purpose-built theatre next to Tokyo Disneyland [official site].

Hearing rave reviews from friends, George and Joseph realised that this was their chance to learn about what goes on behind the curtain at Cirque du Soleil Tokyo, and perhaps to even try out their routine in a bid to get into the show.

There are two versions of this video docucast: a 10 minute short, and the 20 minute director’s edition.

The 9min preview video

Designed for people who are impossibly busy, this video will give you an overview of George and Joseph’s adventure. This is the version that has been added to the podcast feed.

The Full story

Japan Podshow: Behind the curtain at the Cirque du Soleil Zed Theatre Tokyo from japanpodshow on Vimeo.

The full version of the documentary is for those who would like a real insight into the Cirque du Soleil Tokyo Theatre and includes

An interview with Gemma Segarra, Publicity Manager

who tells us about

  • The history of the theatre
  • The families of performers
  • How she feels when she sees her friends walk the highwire
  • If George jumped, would Joseph catch him?

Anatoli the clown

Interview with a clown – Anatoli Akerman

Was Anatoli always destined to be a clown, or is he the black sheep of the family?
Is Joseph’s fear of him only to be expected?

Interview with audience members after the show

How would you feel if you’d just seen the show?

Backstage in the wardrobe department

George and Joseph are presented with two very special costumes in which they will try out their new routine. Do they have what it takes to get in? Do we find out, or will we have to wait for the sequal?

George and Joseph would like to extend special thanks to Gemma Segarra, Anatoli Akerman, the wardobe department, the audience members gave their feedback, and all at Cirque du Soleil Theatre Tokyo for making this possible.

We welcome your feedback

What did you think of the docucast? Is there something you’d like us to cover on an upcoming show? Get in touch!

You can

Subscribe to Japan Podshow for more updates from the creative team at www.Pokya.jp

RSS feed

See you soon!

Joseph and George

Want to see the show yourself? Check out the Cirque du Soleil Tokyo Theatre here.

Japan Podshow Episode 8: Learning Japanese and the Food Process of Doom

Whew. Finally got episode 8 of the podcast out of the door.

This one went a bit crazy. Well, George and I went a bit crazy. Too much coffee, and neither of us were hung over. It was a lot of fun to record though (if a hell of a lot of work to edit!!).

It’s interesting for us to observe how the show is changing through the series. As a ‘beta’ project this is OK. This episode is a fair bit longer than any of the others have been, but I hope it’s entertaining enough to retain people’s interest. Of course you can’t please everyone.

When I say it’s interesting to see how it’s changing, I don’t mean that we’re planless – we’re flexible. Each show teaches us a bit and helps us get a clearer idea of what we’d like to do in the future.

It’s just a shame that it takes so much time to produce them, as we have a bunch of material waiting in the wings!

Hope you enjoy the show.

Episode 8: Learning Japanese and the Food Processor of Doom

The long-awaited episode 8 is now out …and jam-packed with Japan Podshow goodness.

Listen to the show here 49mb, 52 mins, MP3

Download it direct here, Subscribe and listen in iTunes or Listen via our RSS feed. If you have a slow internet connection we have a lower-quality version (also MP3) which you can download here.

Back from their solar eclipse travels, George and Joseph have a lot of treat in store – kicking off with an interview with Hiko Saemon (aka Simon) of YouTube fame.

Learning Japanese Part 1: Interview with Hiko Saemon

Hiko Saemon is the creator of original, inspiring bilingual videos on YouTube, designed for learners of Japanese who would like to see a bit more of the ‘normal’ Japan (and less of the singing on trains), and Japanese YouTubers who like to watch quality content from non-Japanese producers. In this interview he tells us how he got into YouTubing, why he has a healthy right-wing fan base, and how it was that he came to be so good at Japanese.

Simon is also working hard to promote the use of Creative Commons in Japan – check out the Creative Commons YouTube channel here.

Here’s one of his videos by way of introduction.

You can find Simon online in the following places

Hiko Saemon You Tube channel (Japanese with English subtitles)
Hiko Talk YouTube channel (English with some Japanese subtitles)
Hiko Saemon on Blog TV

In the interview Simon also mentioned Ken Tanaka’s You Tube Channel, and Kevin Cooney’s BlogTV channel.

Here’s Simon’s guide to Learning Japanese fast!

George and the JET Programme

Next up, George reveals all as he tells us about the JET programme – a Japanese Government ‘scheme’ that places English-speaking university graduates in schools as teachers all across the country every year. It’s the doorway to Japan that many non-Japanese enter through. But what’s it like? Listen to George tell us how he found it to be a little tough at times.

Learning Japanese Part 2: A multi-pronged approach

Learning Japanese is back!! After a three year break (it first featured on A Year in Japan) this section is back to help you get on with mastering the language.

Each week we’ll be giving you a couple of tips, or ‘Prongs’ as we prefer to refer to them. This week we start with some BIG ideas to consider. Keep listening for more detailed advice in future episodes.

The book Joseph talked about was Remembering the Kanji: Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters v. 1 .

Photography Top Ten!

and The View From Japan

Shane Sakata of the Nihon Sun then joins us to bring us news of a new collaborative photo site called A View From Japan. Every day one of their talented contributors posts a new image from Japan, to give you a pictorial insight into the country they call home.

Shane also provides us with the Photographer’s Top Ten for when coming to Japan – what you can’t afford to miss with your lens!

Joseph also mentions Alfie Goodrich’s site, and his only photo-documentary of Tsukiji Fish Market.

Listener’s Feedback

Wow! We had some great feedback this time. Thank you!!

You can provide feedback via email hello (at mark) japanpodshow .com, facebook, skype, twitter …and you could even write a review for us on iTunes!

Live-cast! – iPhone 3G Giveaway!

Yes, it’s finally the time for us to give away the Japan Podshow-branded iPhone 3G. For this we are using the latest technology for choosing competition winners – The Food Processor of Doom combines with the Thermos of Terror. Not only that, this was live-cast over the internet to ensure no cheating was involved.

The audio version of the podcast contains an extract from the audio of the following video

Win Japanese chocolates and and an amazing water pistol!

Listen to the show or watch the video above to find out how you can enter. The email address you need is hello (at mark) japanpodshow .com.


Music used in the background of this episode was:

After All by Alexander Blu (used in the first half)

Tryad – Waltz into Moonlight (used in the second half)

Thank you for listening! We look forward to receiving your feedback!

Tokyo Photo-Jog: early morning Meguro and Setagaya

Tokyo Photo jog meguro setagaya_0412

I was up at 6am again today. After checking my emails, Twitter and Facebook, I spent about 4 minutes searching for the shorts that I was already wearing, then headed out onto the streets of Tokyo.

I remember someone in an interview being asked what part of Tokyo was their favourite. Their answer: “That early morning part of Tokyo”. I agree. Tokyo between 5am and 7am is a very different place to the Tokyo you’ll find during the rest of the daylight hours. It’s peaceful, nature is still playing the dominant role.

Documenting my jogs around Tokyo using a GPS tracker and camera (that is, Everytrail on the iPhone) gives me enormous pleasure. It turns what could simply be thought of as exercise into a mini-adventure. It helps me construct an image (both in my mind and on my mac) of the Tokyo in which I live. It reminds me that there are still many things to discover- right here on my doorstep. It also gives me a chance to photograph buildings – I am fascinated by Japanese architecture (whilst knowing nothing about it).

Here’s my jog this morning. As usual, it was not planned in the slightest – I just headed out in an unexplored direction and then checked Google Maps a couple of times on my trip to steer me in approximately the right direction.

Below is the interactive map – and some of the photos that I reposted to Flickr.

View this trip in 3D (complete with photos) in Google Earth here

View on Everytrail here

Tokyo photo run: Meguro-ku Sunday morning

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Community

A selection of the photos I took with my iPhone:

Life in a water butt
Tokyo Photo jog Living in a water butt

A shrine fox guardian. The bib is so that he doesn’t mess up his fur when eating.
Tokyo Photo jog Shrine Fox

Obama: Yes we can! …and on his way out on the left, Prime Minister Aso – who’s the chap in brown? (on the window of a traditional Japanese bar)
Tokyo Photo jog Obama and the locals

Stone wall of a temple
Tokyo Photo jog Stone Wall of temple

Meguro has a history of wanting to be upper class, thus the existence of ‘Meguro Ginza”
Tokyo Photo jog Meguro Ginza

Have you ever had a traffic cone that you’ve loved so much that you’ve wanted to protect it from the harsh reality of modern life on the street?
Tokyo Photo jog - Mummified cone

This still-under-construction circular ‘thing’, had me staring in puzzled disbelief. Situated right by the Meguro river, a large number of businesses and private homes had been bulldozed to make way for it. Reading the sign I could see that it was divided up into blocks – the huge concrete wall that towered about 4 storeys up had me thinking this was a new prison. Surely not, here in Meguro?

Tokyo Photo jog Amazing new road junction to take the motorway underground

It was only when I saw an artists impression of the finished complex that I understood what it was for. It’s the main point where Tokyo’s inner ringroad goes underground to join a new tunnel. The reason it’s so big is that vehicles will be circling around inside it.
Tokyo Photo jog - the new swirly whirly underground highway entrance

Baseball is hugely popular here. Many of my salary-men students work as volunteer baseball coaches for youth teams at the weekend.
Tokyo Photo jog Early Morning baseball

Many of Japan’s old steam trains can be found parked up in, erm, parks
Tokyo Photo jog Old steam train

This sign reads “Setagaya-ward Playpark Playleaders – Non (left) and Futa (right) – If there’s anything you don’t know just call us!”
Tokyo Photo jog Playpark playleaders

I then came across an extraordinary private collection of Mercedes (note four at the back too).
Tokyo Photo jog Provate Merc collection

…and a collection of oil bottles to keep them going!
Tokyo Photo jog oil for the Mercedes collection

Japan is yet to see all small private shops destroyed by chains – here we have a traditional liquor store (or Offy as I should say being British!)
Tokyo Photo jog - Traditional Liquor store

Fast forward 30 years and here we have the latest in perspex housing
Tokyo Photo jog - Glass House

Only a few hundred metres from home I discovered an American Movie Gallery store – which included lifesize Star Wars models, and a terminator.
Tokyo Photo jog R2D2 (lifesize)

Hope you enjoyed the tour!