Typhoon Hagibis has cometh. It’s said to be the typhoon of the century, and everyone is bracing for cover. Throughout the night last night, air raid speakers leftover from WWII howled throughout the village that I live in and from the early morning public announcement speakers urged villagers to take refuge at evacuation centers on higher ground.
The disaster preparedness in rural Japan is different from what is experienced in the US. In the US, if a Category 5 hurricane is on the way to Florida, residents are encouraged to evacuate and get as far away from the path of the hurricane as possible. If radar imaging shows that the hurricane will envelop the entire state of Florida, the advice from the government is to get the hell out of Florida. The most important thing is to stay alive.
In rural Japan, safety is certainly a priority and most people are good about having evacuation bags prepared at all time in case of a disaster, but there is a perception of cowardice in fleeing one’s village and everyone in it in order to prioritize one’s own safety. I’m not entirely sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but a lot more thought is put into social interactions. It isn’t normal for a mayor or a governor to tell a community to get out of their village or prefecture. It seems that doing so would somehow reflect poorly on the area, that there is something intrinsic that makes the area uninhabitable. A perception like this is certainly not desirable in a prefecture or village suffering from severe depopulation due to rural flight.
Evacuation in rural Japan is a group activity, and the advice from the local government is to take place in the local evacuation center, which is often a school or community center walking distance from where one is living.
Today I’m holed up in an abandoned middle school on a hill in above my house. In a little mountain village with a history of deadly landslides situated next to a river that is prone to flooding, it is questionable whether the prescribed evacuation centers are any safer than just staying in one’s house. Being with other members of the community feels like a false sense of security when the entire hamlet that we are in could be carried into the violent river below us in the wave of a collapsing mountain. But not everyone can afford this kind of evacuation, and elderly residents unable to drive would be abandoned in this exodus unable to fend for themselves. If one were to survive and everyone else were wiped out, it is easy to understand that they would be seen as a coward. Perhaps a little more responsibility should be borne by the children and grandchildren of these villagers that are off living in the cities where it is safer and there are more jobs, but these individuals are out of sight and out of mind.
For the rest of the day, it looks like we’ll be feeding on the mountain of sweets that the local grannies grabbed on their way out during evacuation. Only the essentials.