The cartoon might look cute and colourful, but the message it conveys is frightening.

On 15 September, residents in Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido found themselves underneath the flight path of a missile launched by North Korea.

This was the second time a missile from North Korea had flown over Hokkaido this year, following the launch two weeks earlier on 29 August. Japan’s J-Alert warning system was activated on both occasions, with sirens from loudspeakers, alerts on phones and emergency broadcasts on television waking residents in the early hours of the morning.

While the warning system was sent out to residents, many of them could do little more than wait and hope that the missile would pass over them without incident. Japanese governments, however, are pressing for residents to do more to protect themselves in the event of an impending disaster.

To help educate residents about the precautions they should take when the J-Alert warning system sounds, the Hokkaido Prefectural Government recently created a colourful manga, which has been released to the public as a digital pamphlet on their official website.

The first page of the four-page comic depicts a morning like any other morning, as six different characters begin their day with a number of scenarios. There’s a tired young woman trying to sleep in, a businessman leaving for work, an elderly woman sipping tea at home, a young woman going for a morning run, a farmer working the fields, and a seaman out at sea. In an instant, though, everything changes for these characters as a missile is launched and the J-Alert system is broadcast via numerous channels.

The comic goes on to say that once the J-Alert system is issued, the actions you take in the next few minutes are important. Alongside each scenario in the comic is a female character who brings various important “points” to the reader’s attention. If you are at school, for example, you should protect yourself by getting under the desks and following the teacher’s instructions.

The actions you take depend on where you are at the moment the alert is issued. If you’re in a park, or outdoors, take shelter inside the nearest building. If there are no buildings around, take cover by kneeling down low and covering your head with your hands.

If you’re out in a field with nothing else around you, move away from vehicles and get down on all fours on the ground, covering your head with your hands.

If you’re out at sea, or outdoors at a place where you can’t take refuge, take actions to protect your body by covering your head, and find as shaded an area as possible.

If you’re indoors, it’s best not to go outside. Instead, stay away from windows and cover your head with a cushion. The panel at the bottom right corner of this strip shows a mother running to the nearby evacuation centre with her emergency bag, but according to these instructions – and the daughter who pulls at her skirt, saying “Mum, calm down!” – this is something you’re advised against doing.

If you’re in the car, find a place to stop, like the carpark of a supermarket, and get away from the vehicle. The comic tells us that cars are filled with flammable gasoline, so it’s best to get out of the car and stay away from vehicles, while taking refuge in the shade of a big building and avoiding big walls of glass.

While the content of these comics is unsettling, people in Japan have long been taught to prepare for disasters like earthquakes and typhoons, so presenting this public service information in comic form is a clever way to get everyone’s attention.

The artist who drew the comic, Manabu Yamamoto, is a Hokkaido-born illustrator who previously worked with the local prefectural government on a crime prevention pamphlet which was distributed to 1,000 elementary schools.

Yamamoto also shared his J-Alert comic on Twitter with his followers, receiving a strong response from people online, who retweeted it 35,000 times.

One thing to note, though, is this response from a fellow Twitter user, who says that people should not lie with their stomachs flat on the ground when outside in these types of situations, as the shock from a blast can rupture organs. This is exactly what happened to someone their mother knew during Word War II.

To find out more about how to protect yourself when the J-Alert is issued, head to the Hokkaido Prefectural government website, where you can print off a copy of the comic, which can be downloaded as a PDF. The local government is encouraging everyone to share the manga strips with family and friends, to help spread the word and increase public awareness in the case of another event.

Source: Hokkaido Prefectural Government via Net Lab
Images: Hokkaido Prefectural Government