The first real earthquake I remember experiencing was on March 11, 2011. You might recognize that as the day of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, which brought the devastating tsunami that ravaged the northeastern coast of Japan. I was in Tokyo at the time, so the seismic activity was markedly lower than that experienced by people living in places like Iwate and Fukushima, but it was still a real shock.

Ever since, I’ve wondered just how much worse it must have been closer to the epicenter. Thanks to the Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Center, I’ve come close to understanding what it must have felt like. Though far from anything you could describe as “fun,” it was an unquestionably powerful experience — and you can find out what it was like too. Check out our video introducing the center below, and learn a little bit about what to do in case you find yourself in caught in the middle of a powerful earthquake.


When it comes to disaster safety, Japan does not mess around. From highly trained firefighters to community organization and education, the country does its best to keep its citizens safe. The Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Center is just one part of the educational outreach you can find in Japan, but it’s a very effective one.

Providing emergency training for everyone from school kids to corporate employees, the center is an extension of the Tokyo Fire Department and takes up two floors with everything from a small theater to a smoke room for fire-escape training to an earthquake simulator.

It was the earthquake simulator, however, that took us to Ikebukuro earlier this month.


After a tour of the facilities, where we saw a wide assortment of fire-response equipment for demonstrations and a map room where Tokyo residents can plot out multiple escape routes in the event of a disaster, we came to the earthquake simulator. Basically a large platform with a table and chairs, the simulator doesn’t look especially imposing. You could almost sit down to have a business meeting without thinking anything of it. However, once the settings are entered into the nearby touch panel, the lights dim and screens on the wall start playing footage actually recorded during the various earthquakes. And then, suddenly, the platform jerks to life, shuddering and shifting back and forth, following the patterns of recorded seismic data.

“It was far scarier than I imagined a simulator would be”

Though the simulator can only move laterally – earthquakes also often have horizontal motion – the shaking can be enough to make participants, myself included, feel quite queasy.


The staff set the simulator to give me a small taste of what it was like to be in the Tohoku area during the 2011 disaster, and it was far scarier than I had imagined a simulator would be. It’s just a platform with a table and chairs swinging back and forth. It should be a walk in the park, right? Not at all.

While it’s obviously nowhere on the same level as experiencing an actual earthquake, and comes without any of the hazards such as falling objects or risk of fire breaking out, the simulator does faithfully demonstrate the lateral motion of an earthquake with seismic activity of seven. In the video below, you can see me huddled under the table, gripping the table leg. When the table moves around, it’s not me pushing it – the shaking was that violent!

As I said of the simulator in our video here, it’s not “fun,” but it is a worthwhile experience. If you’re in Tokyo and you have time, we strongly recommend heading to the center and trying it out for yourself. You should call ahead to make sure the simulator will be available, though, as they have a lot of scheduled tours for students and companies.

The staff at the center also shared some tips for what to do in an earthquake that we wanted to pass on to our readers. Hopefully you’ll never need them, but it’s better safe than sorry, right?

▼ Step one, hide under a table.


10 Tips for Earthquake Safety

1) Protect yourself first! When you feel an earthquake, take cover under a sturdy desk or table and use a cushion to protect your head from falling objects.
2) Once the shaking stops, check for any sources of fire and put them out or turn them off (including gas ovens).
3) Try to stay calm and avoid fallen or broken objects. Also, stay inside to avoid falling objects, like signs on the front of buildings, if possible.
4) Open a door or window so you can escape if necessary. (Doors and windows may be warped and jammed shut if the foundation of the building shifts too much.)
5) If you’re outside, try to stay away from walls, gates, or any objects that may topple.
6) In case there is any danger of a fire breaking out or tsunami, head to a designated evacuation area. Leave for higher ground if you’re on the coast.
7) Get accurate, official information and follow instructions. (In 2011, there was a flood of inaccurate information that spread online after the earthquake.)
8) Make sure that your family and neighbors are alright. Obviously, you’ll want to be careful when going outdoors.
9) Work with neighbors to help others who need first aid or rescuing within reason.
10) In the case of evacuation, be sure to turn off the circuit breaker and the gas main in your office or home before leaving, time permitting.

We’d like to extend a big thank you to the Ikebukuro Safety Learning Center for the tour and the chance to experience the earthquake simulator. It’s not exactly a fun way to spend an afternoon, but it is definitely a good way to spend an afternoon.

Center Information
Ikebukuro Safety Learning Center
Address: 2-37-8 Nishi-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171-0021
Phone number: 81-3-3590-6565
Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last admission 4:15 p.m.)
Website: Ikebukuro Safety Learning Center (access information)

Reference: Ikebukuro Safety Learning Center
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