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What Is Inside a Japanese Emergency Backpack?

Because of its geographical location, Japan is famous for being prone to natural threats such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and the occasional volcanic eruptions. As a foreigner from a country where none of those phenomena exist, moving to Japan meant I needed a minimum amount of knowledge and preparedness about them. Maybe this is what brought you to this article. Read on to learn more about what items would be useful to have ready-packed in case of an emergency.

Why Do You Need an Emergency Backpack?

Earthquakes or floods might prevent you from going outside after a disaster or accessing the usual resources, such as electricity, tap water, and nearby shops. You may also have to leave the comfort of your home to take refuge in an evacuation shelter. (You can check your nearest evacuation shelter on the Disaster Prevention Portal.)

Although I always had a vital minimum of water, food, and emergency tools ready at home, to my great shame, after 12 years of living in Japan, I was still missing an important piece of equipment: the emergency backpack. Since there have been regular (albeit rather small) earthquakes around the Tokyo area lately, and the possibility of the “big one” is still lurking, the topic came up in a conversation with my tabletop role-playing game pals (I have many hobbies.) Alas, I found out I was the only one unprepared, and that motivated me to finally order a ready-made emergency kit online.

This kind of backpack is designed to be taken with you in case you have to leave your home and go to a shelter or another safe place. Basically, it includes a collection of items that can help you survive for a few days. Keeping in mind that the contents of ready-made kits vary—the companies that make them add anything they judge useful—here is a look at what my kit included and some thoughts about it.

1. The Backpack

When empty, it is very light and has plenty of pockets to separate various items into categories. The kit I purchased came with a backpack content checklist, a booklet with some advice on what to do when a disaster occurs, and some survival tips. It’s useful but not as complete as the Tokyo Bosai book published a few years ago.

2. Electrical Items

In the photo above, the item in the middle is a foldable lantern that also acts as a flashlight and a warning lamp (red lights). It works on dry-cell batteries. On the right is a dynamo emergency radio flashlight, which can be charged by winding a small lever. It can provide light if you run out of batteries and also allows you to listen to important announcements on the radio. The last item, on the left, is a mobile phone charger that works on dry-cell batteries. Nowadays, with our primary means of contact with our loved ones and our main source of information being our smartphones, a charger is crucial.

3. Emergency Food and Drink

The kit includes three small bottles of water that can keep for five years and two packs of “emergency rice,” which can be prepared with water (it takes 60 minutes using cold water and 15 minutes using hot water.) It can keep for up to seven years.

Please note that the above is the bare minimum to take with you when displaced, and it is recommended to add other emergency food of your liking. In fact, one should have a minimum of 3 days of food at home, preferably a week. That can be a mix of emergency food and regular food. The recommended amount of water to keep at home is also for 3 days, counting 2 liters per person per day.

The third item in the picture is a plastic tank that can hold 5 liters of water. In case of a disaster, you can head to your nearest water supply station (災害時給水ステーション, higaiji kyusui steshon) to get some water. Make sure to learn where yours is located. (Here is a map for Tokyo.)

If you have pets, make sure to include some of their food in your backpack as well.

4. Items to Keep Your Body at Safe Temperatures

You may have to protect yourself against the weather on your way to the disaster shelter or have to wait for help outside in harsh conditions. That is why the emergency kit also includes a large poncho and an emergency blanket, both designed to keep your body temperature at reasonable levels in the cold and protect you from the rain and wind. My kit also includes a portable drink heater that uses high-temperature steam to heat beverages.

5. Sleeping Gear

Once you’ve made it to a safe place, you will need some items to sleep comfortably. The emergency blanket I described above is designed to maintain your body temperature in case of emergency but is not really made to be slept in, as it lacks comfort.

So, my kit includes an air bed with a pump to inflate it, an emergency sleeping bag, and a set including ear plugs and sleeping blindfolds so that you can get proper rest, even when surrounded by hundreds of other displaced people.

6. Other Life-Saving Devices

My emergency kit also includes gloves, a crucial item to wear, not only for the cold but also for when you have to navigate around damaged buildings where there may be shattered glass, for example. There is also a whistle that can help you signal your position—especially useful when you’re lost outside or need to get the attention of rescue teams if you are trapped inside a building.

The item that surprised me the most is the “smoke shut-out bag,” which, during a fire, allows you to gather some fresh air to prevent yourself from breathing smoke while you make your way toward the nearest emergency exit. I did not know such a device existed.

7. Hygiene Products

Among other useful items, my kit included a very basic first-aid kit that includes scissors, gauze, tweezers, and band-aids. I thought this collection could be improved with gloves, antiseptic solutions, painkillers, and more. So, I recommend making your own first-aid bag. You can find some clues about what to include in it here. Make sure that you have a sufficient amount of medication if you are undergoing medical treatment. Be sure to remember any medication your pets might need as well.

My kit also contains some tissues, wet wipes that can keep for five years, and a toothbrush set.

Emergency toilets and corresponding trash bags are also important. Even if you can stay in your home, the water and sewage may not be working for some time.

If you menstruate, you’ll probably want to add some sanitary items to this section of your backpack.

8. Extras

The last items are a towel and compression bags, as it is also recommended to put some spare clothes in your emergency backpack.

Please keep in mind that all the items above are the minimum necessities in case of an emergency and that you should add anything that you would need or would find useful if a disaster happens. Just keep in mind that your bag should not be too heavy for you to carry comfortably.

Do you own an emergency backpack? What are the items you would recommend the most? Let us know in the comments!

Born in France, I've been living in Japan since 2011. I'm curious about everything, and living in Japan has allowed me to expand my vision of the world through a broad range of new activities, experiences, and encounters. As a writer, what I love most is listening to people's personal stories and share them with our readers.

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