Survival In Japan

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Mike Turner. Mike lives in Japan so his perspective is unique to most of us. In this article Mike shares tips he has assembled to help anyone reading this learn more about survival in Japan with it’s different challenges. Although the location is foreign to most of our readers, the information here is still valuable.


 

Preface

Japan, one of the most technologically advanced and innovative countries on the planet. Survival in such a place at first glance sounds all too easy. However, this island is plagued by a range of natural and man-made disasters. From nuclear radiation to devastating tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes. This article will look at the aspects of how to establish your preps, self-reliance and improving your chance for survival in a country with not only vibrant and diverse natural resources, but deadly terrain and unpredictable weather patterns.

Getting Prepared

The Japanese government, like FEMA in the United States, does recommend bugging in and waiting for aid to come to you. In a country that has frequent earthquakes many Japanese people do have a very basic emergency kit. The kit usually consists of a light, a pair of simple work gloves, a small amount of rope, emergency radio, emergency blanket, several bottles of water and dried goods such as ramen noodles, crackers or long life survival biscuits. All of which is cased in a fireproof backpack. This comes usually as a set pack with additional items that can be bought separately.

After my second year in Japan, I myself bought several of these items and began my journey into the world of prepping. Many supermarkets and discount stores here have a dedicated emergency section for such goods. However, comparing with other countries such as the United States or the U.K, the selection and variety of long-term survival goods is somewhat poor.

Gerber makes great, reasonably priced products that last.

This however, is not the end. By frequenting a range of sports, hiking and military surplus stores such as Sports Authority, ICI, Troopers(Akabane, Tokyo), Tokyu Hands and Montbell, You can find what you need. I myself stock Gerber gear, such as axes, machetes, survival knives and saws. These for the semi urban environment in which I live will serve well as self-protection and resources gathering/processing tools. There is also a brand which is quite prevalent at the moment called LOGOS. In these stores you can buy basic survival gear, fire sources, water purification filters and survival or hiking clothing.

There are also several chains of 100 yen stores (like a dollar or pound store) that allow you to stock pile consumables, basic goods and tools at a very low-cost.

So, why do people only prepare the very minimum? The answer lies with the Japanese governments plan to supply aid in the event of a disaster. In every ward, section or district of the city or town in which you live you will find various large metal shipping containers. These containers are labelled for their area and contain emergency relief supplies that are to be distributed by city officials. The contents of these containers is unknown and not broad cast to the public, but logic would dictate they contain long life goods and non perishables such as water, blankets, flashlights and basic medical supplies. There are also well labelled and sign posted emergency shelters or meeting points located in every town or city where help can be found.

JapanRedCross
The Japanese government already has very robust plans to supply aid in the event of a disaster.

If you, like me, do not depend on government aid then self-reliance and preparedness can be difficult to achieve right away. A lot of my equipment had to be ordered from over seas and Japanese customs law prohibits many items that preppers would find either necessary or useful such as flares, fire making tools or military grade equipment.

Firearms are also illegal in Japan bar justifiable use, such as farmers or professional hunters. The police themselves only carry a six shot snub nosed revolver, cuffs and baton. The Japanese culture itself is not one of extreme violence meaning anything more would be in necessary. Also, for those of you with a mind to scavenge weapons and ammo from the abandoned police stations and boxes, this would not be as fruitful as one might think.

If you live in Tokyo you can also obtain a free earthquake / disaster guide. This guide outlines certain emergency procedures, tips and ways of constructing tools and survival items. While informational the guide has only partially translated into English. So, Japanese language skill is necessary. You can find a good source of information on this guide in the article “Free Tokyo Disaster Manual Offers Creative Survival Tips” by Pat Henry.

Creating your Food Store

When thinking about your food store and how to put one together, the country that you are in really does impact heavily on what you store, when and how much. Japan, like most first world countries has a wide selection of long life goods available year round. However the cost and availability of said goods can be in stark contrast to other countries.

Here is a breakdown of the basic staples of a survival food store and where in which to buy said foods.

Wheat, beans and grains – Supermarkets all over Japan sell rice in a variety of types, weights, both unwashed, washed, low-calorie, low starch or standard. Storing a 10kg bag of rice is one of the easiest preps to start with in Japan. On the topic of beans, you will find buying in large quantities difficult, even at Costco. The best way in my experience to buy beans in bulk at a good price is via any one of the Brazilian markets around Japan. These markets all have websites and will often deliver directly to your house.

Pasta, while a favorite as a foreign food in Japan, can like beans be priced and sold in small quantities. I have found that either buying in bulk at Costco or frequenting the supermarkets and 100 Yen stores you can buy it in 300g bags cheaply.

Other such items in this category can all be found at all major supermarkets. Specialty items such as corn flour for making cornbread, tortillas or tacos can be found at the specialty foreign import store Caldi.

Red Meats, poultry and fish – This is where things can begin to get difficult for a multitude of reasons. First of all, While Japan has a range of cuts of beef, chicken and pork, finding decent sausages is near impossible outside of Costco. This is also true of luncheon meats and bacon. Japan favors the processed hot-dog in this area and sliced boiled ham. So for an Englishman, sausages, bacon and a good ham sandwich are a must. The best place by far for low-cost, good quality fresh or frozen meats in a chain discount store called Gyomu Super.

A gravity filter like the Big Berkey can easily filter gallons of water at a time for your whole family.

Canned/Tinned goods however are a different story. Chicken, corned beef, lunches meat and a variety of fish can be found in every supermarket. However, these items are much more expensive in Japan and it is recommended you spend the time to properly price check items in several stores. Spam for example, is one of the most expensive canned/tinned goods on the shelf.

Fruit and vegetables – There are many exotic fruits and vegetables here in Japan that you would not find, or may have never even heard of in the US or UK. Japan is a country in which people grow food anywhere and everywhere they can. Vegetable gardens and allotments are a common sight in smaller cities and towns. Even out in the middle of the street. This however does not mean that building your long life food stores will be easy. Long life goods are restricted to only a few foods such as corn, asparagus, mixed beans, mushrooms, cherries, tomatoes, pineapple, mixed fruit cocktail and very rarely found potatoes and carrots. These cans are often small and marginally expensive for what you get. Costco may seasonally have canned/tinned goods worth picking up. However, the best option I have found for this so far is buying frozen mixed vegetables or dehydrating/canning/growing my own.

Other stores – All of the other food items can be picked up as you go from discount sections in supermarkets or discount/bulk stores when you frequent them. Canola oil, coconut oil, herbs and spices, chocolate bars and peanut butter are all good choices. There is also a range of luxury canned foods that you can buy which while expensive will boost moral if you have to survive off your stores for an extended period of time.

Long life goods – Sports Authority and several other stores in Japan such as ICI or Montebell will stock a lot of boil in the bag or freeze-dried meals which you can use to stock your BOB or surplus your stores with. Japan does have its own range of MREs that can sometimes be found at the store Donkihote. However, these are expensive and not particularly enjoyable.

JapanTrains

Water and Water Purification

Two liter bottles of water are very cheap to buy in a supermarket and can be bought by the case. Smaller bottles are also worth picking up if you need to go scouting an area or for trade. Glass containers are best as they don’t break down over time like plastic does. However, to my knowledge buying survival water jars in Japan is not possible unless you buy them online. Per person you’re looking at about 2 – 3 liters of water a day depending on your daily activities and weather. So stocking about 20 odd bottles at two liters each will give you enough time with water to get your bearings, assess your situation and seek out a renewable source of water.

As for purification LOGOS have a life-straw which is inexpensive and compact. It comes with small container of chemical purifier. However, it is not built for heavy-duty use. Other options are buying purification tablets on-line or in a survival store such as ICI. These in store however are hard to come by. Personally, I believe that knowledge of clean water sources and how to make your own filter or catchment system is king in Japan when it comes to water procurement or purification.

Here are several methods of purifying water that would be suited to survival in Japan.

In regards to water procurement I would put faith in the following:

  • Evaporation Still (using plastic wrap and greenery)
  • Rain Catchment System
  • Rivers, streams and creeks in the area.

Storing Gear

In Japan storage space is extremely limited. Many people sleep on roll-able futons and utilize wall racks to store items along the walls. This presents a problem for preppers as stocking enough for and water at least two or three weeks alone requires space. To best utilize storage space in a small Japanese apartment or house plastic storage containers and wall racks are the best way to go. Large departmental supermarkets and home centers will sell a range of boxes to suit your storage needs. Personally, I only buy the same type of box for ease of organization and stacking. Keeping a large seal-able container for the different types of gear and stores that you have can be extremely helpful.

Here is an organizational plan for how I store my own gear which could be a good starting point when creating your own system.

  • Storage Container 1 – Food Stores
  • Storage Container 2 – Water Stores
  • Storage Container 3 – Fuel / Light and Combustion Materials
  • Storage Container 4 – Tools / Weaponry
  • Storage Container 5 – Other Survival Goods
  • Storage Container 6 – Charcoal / Processed Wood
  • Wall Rack 1 – Bug Out Gear and Clothing
  • Wall Rack 2 – EDC and Work Gear

By storing gear into individual containers It makes it easier to keep track of your gear and easier to do inventory checks.

JapanSunset

Survival Tips

  1. When shopping around in Japan for survival goods the first thing many people do is go to the sports and outdoors stores. This, from my experience, has not always been the case. Drug stores often stock ethanol alcohol, an amazing lightweight fuel for fire, many 100 Yen stores sell small metal containers for making char cloth, storing gear and creating your own survival kits.
  2. Another great source of survival materials is under the train lines in rural areas. The trees around the city get cut back and the branches are then put under the tracks to be disposed of. Here is a perfect source of process able firewood for storage that is free of charge.
  3. If looking for decent wet stones, look for the older knife store, in the Tokyo area Asakusa is best. However, some 100 Yen stores will stock cheap wet stones and diamond files.
  4. Don’t cook Ramen noodles to perfection. Boil water in your container, add the noodles and seasoning, then cover it. Allow the steam and residual heat to cook them without wasting fuel. They come out cooked just fine.
  5. Learning the different seasons of Japan can also really make a big difference when prepping and building your stores. Each year certain items line the store shelves and are best capitalized on while they are there. Some items however are best left to the end if the season when they are on discount. For example charcoal, camping supplies or canned goods.
  6. Learn what the different foods, sauces and seasoning that are not native to your country are. When you come across them they can either make a meal or destroy one. While in a survival situation you eat what you can get, the mental blow and push on moral can make all the difference eating food that tastes good.
  7. During major earthquakes certain types of vending machine become free of charge for a short time.
  8. Japan is full of good hiking and trekking locations. Make sure you frequent them at least once every two or three months. This way you can get a good feel for the land, wild life and ignition sources available.

When should you bug out or bug in?

First of all, what is bugging out really? In a bad situation that would require you to abandoned your home for an extended period of time, if not permanently, you will be in one of the following types of situation:

A Natural Disaster – Earthquake, tsunami, flood, storm, tornado, volcanic eruption, landslide, fire

A Man Made Disaster – War, chemical or biological attack/accident, riot, fire, nuclear incident

Assuming that your day-to-day residents is your primary residents, we can assume that this is where your BOB(bug out bag), food and survival stores are kept. The only reason to leave and bug out would be due to a deterioration in the environment that you are in. This can be environmental, such as temperature or rising water, man-made due to hazardous chemicals, radiation or physical danger or a lack of supplies.

In this case your BOB and BOV(bug out vehicle) would become your shelter, food stores and cache of gear. When bugging out the primary goal is to reach your bug out location. A secure place in which you can survive the present dangers until things settle down, if they do at all. Secondary goals might be to retrieve hidden caches of weapons, food or gear along the way or rendezvous with other members of your team.

By bugging out the theory is that you are putting yourself in the most secure, well equipped location possible to survive. So then what is bugging in?

Bugging in refers to hunkering down in your present residence and riding out the storm from home. There are many theories, ideas and philosophy’s behind both sides of the coin. On the one hand you are already at home, so why go somewhere else that may have been destroyed or compromised. On the other, how long can you survive at home with the resources you have stock piled.

In Japan bugging out would be best served by going to an evacuation center or towards the coast line via a river. This gives you the greatest chance of survival due to either numbers or food and water resources. The situation itself of course must be considered. Going towards the coast could put you in danger of tsunami and going closer in land adds the risk of landslide. The best way really is to have several options for bugging out to cover all of the possible scenarios or at least one or two that minimize risk in all situations.

In my experience bugging in is one of the best bets for survival in Japan. By choosing a good place to live and knowing what is in your surrounding area you can effectively set up shop and begin to affect self-reliance from the very beginning of a bad situation.

If you feel that you absolutely have to bug out then go towards Nagano or any prefecture that is dominantly farm land or forest. The diverse wildlife and attainable resources give you the best chance of survival if you have basic survival skills. Also, in areas such as this it is possible to acquire firearms either through trade or barter as farmers in this type of area can obtain a legal license for rifles or shotguns.

Survival Groups

Survival situations are often a lot easier to handle when you have a strong group of people to divide tasks between. The Japanese mentality would support the group teamwork advantage. However, if you are going to put a group together you will really have to look carefully and choose people who are willing to take on down and dirty tasks when the time comes. Regardless of past Japanese natural disasters many are still unprepared and are unwilling to do so. Your best bet in most situations is to find a group of non natives as well as native. The reason is that you can maximize the amount of survival knowledge and skill sets as possible. However, beware of the language barrier and communication problems. In a stressful situation if you can’t communicate you can’t function as a unit. A good group design would follow along these lines:

  • X1 communications / electronics
  • X2 hunter / trapper
  • X1 medical
  • X2 weapons / survival
  • X1 wildlife / botanical

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EgbertThrockmorton1
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EgbertThrockmorton1

Excellent article! Thank you for the perspective, great stuff!

mturner7878
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mturner7878

Thanks Egbert. I would like to be more specific but my Japanese still isnt good enough to get all the info i want.

Bolofia
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Bolofia

Mike,
It’s actually fascinating to learn how people in an entirely different culture/society approach the concept of prepping. From what you describe, it sounds like Japanese citizens have an expectation that their government will always take care of them in a widespread or enduring disaster.

Mamoru
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Mamoru

It just goes from years of doing so. The Japanese military, Red Cross etc have always been their for the people and are set up to help the people. It is a much better functioning system than FEMA ever could manage. Yet it does take away the idea of being able to do it yourself. That is the biggest downfall. It is hard to really figure out which is better, the lone wolf I can do anything and have skills sets for it or the group reliance and built in assurances of a relatively prepared government.

mturner7878
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mturner7878

I think having a good balance of both is a good bet.

mturner7878
Guest
mturner7878

Well that is a yes and no. While japan does have a lot in place to help with natural disasters the people themselves, at least in the more metropolitan areas dont seem to prepare at all. Only a small number of my friends have any emergency stores. Even then, those are extremly basic and would only last a day or so.

Mamoru
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Mamoru

Whole heartedly agree. I nag all the time to my friends in Hiroshima and here in Tokyo to at least get together something. Most of the people I know spent a year at least in Montana and learned a bit there and brought it back here to Japan with them. I would say they are close to attaining that good balance. While none of them are going to write a book on survival they at least have a leg up on the vast majority of folks here.

mturner7878
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mturner7878

That’s good. I live in Saitama. Most of my friends find prepping interesting but never really try it. Unless I gift them something like a starter kit or long life food.