Surviving Tokyo’s Big Earthquake: Emergency Survival Kit Review

Preparing for Tokyo's Big Earthquake Infographic

As someone who was surrounded by some of the most dangerous predators growing up down-under, facing disaster-prone Japan should be a sinch, no? After all, years of residing in this catastrophe infested wonderland have provided me with many luxuries. These include living through the geological shakes, rattles and rolls that rival any of Nihon’s premium karaoke audio systems.

So, you’re probably wondering about these shakes and rattles? First of all, Japan sits delicately balanced above four tectonic plates. Tip the scales even slightly and that’s 20% of all the world’s earthquakes above a 6. Beyond earthquakes, tsunamis love to visit us too, the most memorable being March 2011, where it very much outstayed its welcome. Almost 10% of the globe’s active volcanoes are always blowing smoke, making sure we don’t ignore them. Oh, I forgot to mention typhoons, floods, landslides, and nuclear meltdowns too. However, I am Tokyo-based, and experts warn this city is the next target for another powerful and destructive quake.

Of course, there is no way I should continue to face these nightmare scenarios alone! Luckily for me, emergency disaster kits are a thing in Japan, but are these kits actually effective? Tokyo Survival Channel challenged me to test the worthiness of these survival kits for the impending Tokyo earthquake apocalypse. Keep reading to find out what awesome gear is packed inside and whether they are worth the US$100+ we spent.

Update 2019 August 22: We have been contacted by MT-NET Inc (http://www.mt-net.co.jp/), the manufacturer of the survival kit Matt used in this article to survive, and provided us with commentary on each item!

Mentally Preparing for the Worst

For those of you who caught my initial hometown reference, you’ll notice I am from Australia, the land where everything can kill you. Literally! If I compare that to my several years of being immersed in the gaijin dream, then those terrifying tremors still get under my skin. The one looming reality I refuse to face is that big mother of a shock, headed for us Tokyoites.

What better way to prepare for this brewing calamity then with our very own disaster survival pack. Sure, mass devastation or not I am pumped (waku waku) to be testing some of the goodies in this show bag. The little whipper-snapper in me has been reborn, but under the worst of circumstances in our hypothetical holocaust from hell.

Where to Buy a Survival Kit

It’s mindblowing scrolling through Rakuten and Amazon Japan to find the horde of emergency kits available. I wanted to invest my hard-earned yen in a backpack with the key necessities only but found several were out of stock. I finally settled upon a pretty stock ¥12,000 kit on Amazon Japan. This was similar to most basics sets, albeit with some minor variations.

Unpacking the Emergency Survival Kit

A couple of days later, the box arrived in my hot little hands. The delivery driver was clearly puzzled as to why I was grinning my ears off. I ripped the box out of his hands and hastily ran into my lounge room to tear open the contents. I arranged everything neatly on my couch, dumping the box in the process, just so I could see what kind of madness was ahead. In my pack I found the following:

  • Water and food: Pretty basic rice-based meals and emergency water, I am a foodie, so probably the low-point of the set.
  • AM/FM radio: This thing rocks, quite literally. Of course, we won’t be busting out tunes, rather information updates. Yet, with the ability to charge, shine and scream. My new favourite toy.
  • Blow-up mattress: Not the ultimate sleeping accessory, but hopefully under the beauty of my dark ceiling it will keep me comfortably hibernated.
  • Toilet System: It’s your sanitary dark plastic bag solution, take it anywhere and ‘do it’ anywhere too!
  • Wet wipes: I couldn’t find any toilet paper, and these are non-alcoholic, so they won’t sting that much right?
  • First aid kit: This is just a bunch of band-aids …
  • Gloves: Protect your hands! Let’s face it though, these will come in handy for moving shards of glass and other sharp objects.
  • Slippers: Brown, flimsy and perhaps useless. A worthy addition!

Are you ready? Let’s dive in and check out this range of survival essential goodness.

Note from Manufacturer (MT-NET Inc):

  • Since average person needs at least 2L of water per day, you’d need 4 of 500ml bottle. To make the backpack as light and mobile as possible, they chose to have 3 bottles of water (1.5L).
  • Food has at least 5 years of best-before date.
  • AM/FM can be charged by hand (takes 10-15 min), has LED light.
  • Wet wipe is not using alcohol for longer storage life (at least 5 years) and for people that has allergic reaction to alcohol.

The Backpack

It’s blue, it’s bright and it’s a bag that could save your life! As that imaginary massive fear-invoking earthquake came to level Japan’s capital, I slung my survival kit over my shoulders. I quickly vacated the building, scaling the fire escape and darted outside to evade its evil crutches. I quickly noticed the bag’s weight was solid, but not overbearing. In the darkness and devastation of our fictional catastrophe, I easily managed to rack up several kms. I made my way to the safety of one of the nearby local parks, without even much of a sweat.

Opening up my 20L case of goodies, and it’s easy to see how spacious the interior is, easily holding all equipment comfortably. I could empty and re-pack all the contents easily too, as you can basically unzip the bag in half providing easy access to all compartments. With all the extra space I could easily chuck a bunch of beers inside too, because essentials.

Ignoring the facade of our major earthquake for a moment, I noticed the bag was clearly visible because Tokyo’s streets are so well lit up. I am sure the shades of black would be shrouded in darkness, but the flare of the blue should help to compensate. For the clubbers, add your favourite glowstick colour and you’ve become a glowing beacon of hope in our hour of despair.

I said that the weight of the rucksack posed no problem for me over several kms, my female friends figured otherwise though. Even the initial bulk of the kit soon became a physical drain for them as they quickly surrendered it to the floor. Basically, proof it would be an impossible task among the rugged and damaged terrain that I just endured. Retiring to bed I eagerly awaited the chance to finally test the contents of our survival set.

The next day I leapt out of bed at 8:30 am. It was time to finally get through the emergency essentials and see how effective they really are …

Food and Water

For breakfast, I decided to go with the plain white rice option (sky blue pack) and noticed how well it matched my complexion. Preparing the food was no more complicated than opening the satchel. Simply, add water, mix thoroughly and bon appétit. I was about to demolish the most basic of meals to stave off my hunger. However, with more flavorful options left, I knew this survival food journey still had more potential.

I washed it down with some of the included water, which in dire situations satisfies a thirst that is need of quenching. Three bottles are included in the pack, so I decided to ration one for each meal.

As lunchtime approached, I recognised it was time to be adventurous, so I selected the purple/maroon option. This was the ‘ume’ (梅) or Japanese plum flavored rice satchel. Prep was the same as breakfast: add water, stir, eat. This time though we had some actual hint of flavors to slightly mess with our senses. I noticed the discreet sour taste of plum present in this meal, it was muted without being too overpowering. It took the meaning of rice to a whole universe in this case though, as my only basis was plain white rice from the morning. The second bottle was there staring me in the face, and so we sank the afternoon away together.

Finally, dinner came round, and I had my one remaining meal to see the day out. This was the greenish vegetarian option, and potentially my most nutritious meal today. The Chinese characters used on the packaging are ‘青菜’ (Aona) literally meaning greens or green vegetables. Pretty vague from an ingredient perspective, but to me, it still sounded good for weight loss. Same preparation method, this time the faint aroma of greens gradually leaked from the satchel. Initially, this dish’s flavor was vaguely reminiscent of broccoli or spinach, but still predominantly rice as I dug deeper. Finishing off my last meal with the last bottle of water, I looked for a safe place to settle and test the other essentials. I needed to be ready for any surprises in this grim scenario …

The Flashlight / Charger and Lamp

The light over the ruins of Tokyo’s cityscape steadily disappeared, and I needed artificial light from my Flashlight/Charger and Lamp. Its initial charge was also enough to get a decent amount of light for the first 30 minutes. I kept winding the lever to maintain the light’s charge, in order to have any chance of seeing in this gloomy dark place. 

As I continued my furious rotations of the handle, I decided to switch to the FM radio. I found a few familiar English tracks but got lost in the Japanese commentary in between. Obviously, not a positive sign for the real apocalypse. Hopefully, the broadcasters provide communication in multiple languages in a real emergency. I switched back to flashlight mode and using my old Japanese textbook I tried to brush up on my seriously rusty language skills. A good twenty minutes in, and the weight of my eyelids started to set in.

It was time to test its charging ability, I got back to my frantic winding. After a few thousand revolutions, a few mins later and I was already exhausted. I saw the battery indicator rise slightly, but, fully charged was gonna take some major effort. Opting to use real electricity, I retired my strength in favour of a common power outlet, then searched for my air mattress.

I haven’t even made my temporary sleeping quarters. I guess that will be my next challenge…

Blow-up Mattress & Emergency Blanket

As bedtime neared, I opened the snugly packed air mattress kit and pondered my setup approach. Although it is designed to support up to 200kg, it still worried me at my current weight of 90kg, yeah I got some love handles. The kit also included an emergency blanket designed to keep me warm through all kinds of weather. Yet, in this recent summer’s heat, I was happy to go the full monty. Don’t try to picture it though, please …

Inflating the mattress took around seven minutes with the included pump, which I thought was acceptable. I was a little breathless by the end, almost feeling like I had endured half a marathon. The mattress itself is very narrow, meaning you don’t have much lateral support. Despite this, it had no trouble supporting my lean figure. Contrastingly, the length was a bonus, in that I could fold the surplus into a make-shift pillow. The blanket I just pushed to the side, all neglected and alone.

The Blanket sheet

Against hard wooden floors though, it was a struggle for me to find a comfortable sleeping position. The mattress had no trouble supporting my weight, but I couldn’t help but sink into the middle against my hard wooden floors. I finally managed to drift off — seemingly only to wake-up again a few moments later. My battle of body vs bed continued into the early hours of the morning until I finally admitted defeat. The mattress had won, and so in this hypothetical apocalypse, I cheated with a better alternative. All the same, in a real emergency the air mattress would probably prove more effective if it had a softer base beneath it.

Note from Manufacturer (MT-NET Inc):

Taking good quality rest very important in the time of apocalypse. Evacuation may have some blanket for you, but they typically do not have any mattress. It takes enormous effort to pump the bed manually by mouth, so the bed comes with an air pump to make things easier.

Toilet System

 

The toilet system was probably the easiest of all the items for me to set up and dispose of. The assembly was self-explanatory from the packaging photos, and so I went to work. The black bag (similar to large garbage bags) is used as the main bag you place inside the bowl of the toilet. Or any kind of container for that matter, for example, a cardboard box. From there, I conducted my extremely demanding business in the bag, removed the bag and placed it in one of the clear airtight plastic bags. At this stage, you can then discard it properly.

I think the color coding and differences in the size of bags made this very easy to distinguish in terms of purpose. This was definitely a necessary and simple addition included in the survival pack.

Note from Manufacturer (MT-NET Inc):

This set include macromolecular polymer that can absorb water 500 times more of its own volume. This would come in handy when there is no water available. Since the polymer is resin-derived product, it can be discharged as combustible waste.

First Aid Kit

Emergency kit

Probably the most disappointing aspect of all the items from this package was the first aid kit. Because, when I say ultrabasic, it was a small plastic tub containing a few Band-Aids. Ok, so it also includes cotton buds, and some small instruments like tweezers, scissors, nail clippers, and a nail file. That’s fine, but it was missing some if seriously mandatory items.

For a more effective first aid kit, you would expect some antiseptic cream or lotion, plus bandages, at a minimum. Plus different sized Band-Aids to cater for a range of cuts and wounds. You will have to go shopping for extra supplies if you want to make this set even semi-complete.

Note from Manufacturer (MT-NET Inc):

As Matt pointed out, this is very simple, basic set for a First aid Kit due to restriction of Pharmaceutical Affairs law and storage life. We are working toward creating new, improved set so stay tuned!

Everything Else in the Kit

My understanding is that the slippers were included to mainly be used indoors, particularly if there was broken glass from windows, mirrors, or dishes. (Even after an earthquake apocalypse, Japanese indoor etiquette must be followed.) Yet, their actual lack of any real protection or support really made me question the legitimacy of their inclusion.

On the other hand, a wet tissue pack is something I almost can’t live without after being in Japan for so long. At almost every restaurant you just expect to get an oshibori, and the places that don’t provide them almost seem disappointing in comparison. Hence, why I think they would come in very useful during an emergency.

The heat pack included in the kit would definitely be useful in the cooler months of Japan, anytime between November and April. Outside these times, it’s probably worthless, as the temperatures tend to be more comfortable during the day and evening.

There is another pack of miscellaneous items, which would also look to be handy. It includes some gloves, toothbrush, face mask, wet tissues, and normal tissues. These are essential items that help increase the overall effectiveness of the kit.

Note from Manufacturer (MT-NET Inc):

Slippers are essential in living in the shelter. It is thin, so do not walk on sharp edges like broken glasses. These slippers are more for comfort and warmth.

Recapping of the Kit

When considering the overall usefulness of this survival pack, the glaringly obvious drawback was the extremely basic first aid kit. Importantly, a more comprehensive kit requires more bandages, antiseptic cream or gel, a variety of band-aids and plenty more to be truly effective. So, either find a kit with a better first-aid pack or spend the money on additional medical supplies.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Preparedness Guide “Emergency Bag” checklist, also serves as a guide for what essential equipment you need during an emergency or disaster. Based on this list, a lot of items are covered in the kit I bought. But a few major things are missing too; these include items like a helmet, protective hood, batteries, lighter, candles, can opener, and a knife.

Overall, I consider the pack to be effective in covering the bare essentials in terms of a hypothetical apocalypse. Yet, it could certainly do with more comprehensive inclusion of protective and useful options, as per the government’s list. In addition to a better first aid kit, a helmet and knife would also go a long way to boosting the viability of this pack.

Surviving the Big One & Celebrating with Canned Food

My imaginary yet devastating earthquake apocalypse was finally over — Tokyo was still safe — so it was time to trade in my emergency kit for slightly more upscale survivalist dining.

The unusual Tokyo eatery ‘Mr. Kanso’ was my final destination. The store itself was pretty unassuming, in that I couldn’t search for it on Google Maps. The website provides directions (in Japanese) with photos for guidance, so with a bit of trial and error, you too should be able to find the flashing neon sign luring you inside. On the third floor of the narrow building resides Mr. Kanso, a bistro-slash-bar that provides an unusual experience of pairing alcohol with canned delicacies.

You could be initially mistaken for thinking you’re walking into a small supermarket. But, turning the corner of canned goodies reveals a bar countertop with a modest and spacious setting of tables and chairs. As it was my first experience at Mr. Kanso, I went light on the initial order of 3 canned items plus 2 beers.

There is a menu recommending some of the more popular choices, but venture over to the nearby shelves and you can easily get lost in an extensive variety of tin meals. Probably more impressive is the variety of drinks, including Japanese and import beers, and a selection of spirits, wines, and regular cocktails.

I asked for a recommendation but was basically told there were too many cans to choose from, so I tried a random selection. I ordered canned bacon, rice balls, and spicy sausage (chorizo), plus beer. The advantage of eating canned food in this restaurant is that all of your meals are warmed up and served to you hot. The quality of food, of course, is as good as canned food gets, a little bland and not so fresh. Yet the novelty and price of the cans make for a fairly cheap and perhaps unique experience. Definitely, not something you can find in other bars or izakayas in Tokyo.

Drink prices range from fairly reasonable to slightly expensive, so depending on what you like it can impact your final bill. Despite this, his entire range of drinks is quite impressive and should help to satisfy most people’s cravings. Some interesting additions were his range of coffee-flavored beers and Japanese shochu.

Mr. Kanso is a few minutes walk away from Okachimachi Station (JR). For more information about the place, you can visit the bar’s website (in Japanese).

AUTHOR: Matt Ainsworth

Matt Ainsworth

Facebook: @FAQjapan
Instagram : @faqjapan
Website: FAQ Japan

From Sydney, down-under, I hopped on a plane, hopped off at Tokyo and have never looked back. Outside the writer's chair, I love to explore this nation's contemporary and traditional culinary scene and even dabble in my own kitchen. Through my own words I hope to provide a flavor and insight that paints a brighter Japan for both today and tomorrow.

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