Australians in Japan are being urged to prepare themselves, monitor local media and follow the advice of authorities after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake triggered tsunami waves over a metre high.
The death toll from the New Year’s Day earthquake in central Japan has risen to six, police confirmed on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said it was “race against time” to rescue victims.
“Very extensive damage has been confirmed, including numerous casualties, building collapses and fires,” he told reporters.
A duty officer from Ishikawa Prefecture Police told AFP that authorities were investigating the discovery of two more bodies, “one in Nanao city and one in Shika town” after four deaths were already confirmed following the quake that struck off the main island of Honshu.
Japanese authorities said the 7.6-magnitude earthquake at 4:10pm – named the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake – was one of more than 50 quakes of 3.2 magnitude or more to rock the region on the New Year’s Day.
Japan has now lifted all the tsunami warnings and advisories that were put in place, a meteorological agency official told AFP on Tuesday, but small changes to tidal levels are still possible.
The Australian government’s travel advice website, Smartraveller, issued a warning for those in the area.
“Significant earthquakes have occurred off the coast of Ishikawa Prefecture in Central Japan,” it said. “There’s been damage to infrastructure, including roads and buildings. There may be disruptions to essential services, including transport. If you’re in an affected area, be prepared for further aftershocks, take all tsunami warnings seriously, monitor the media and follow the advice of local authorities.”
The government has warned in an emergency, “consular help may be severely limited”.
Australians are urged to maintain a basic emergency supply kit, secure their passport in a safe waterproof place, and make sure they react to any evacuation orders.
It is recommended they download the NHK app, which is Japan’s public broadcaster, and set it to receive emergency notifications in English.
Radio stations that broadcast emergency information in English include the US Armed Forces station (810 AM) and Inter FM (76.1 FM) in Tokyo.
All major disaster warnings are published by the Japan Meteorological Agency, but on Tuesday the website said “due to a technical issue”, tsunami warnings and advisories were only published in Japanese.
If there is an earthquake in Japan, the Australian government advises to:
• Know the emergency evacuation plans in your region.
• Identify your local shelter, which is often a local school or another public facility
• React to any evacuation orders.
• Check the Japan Meteorological Agency for earthquake and tsunami information.
• Move to higher ground straight away if you’re in a coastal region.
• Keep in contact with family and friends.
The overall advice for travel to Japan is still to “exercise normal safety precautions”.
Japan’s New Year’s Day earthquake
The government said it was still assessing the extent of damage from the quake, which shook apartments in the capital Tokyo some 300 kilometres away.
Tens of thousands of people were ordered to evacuate, according to the country’s fire and disaster management agency, reported Kyodo news agency.
Images on social media showed cars and houses in Ishikawa shaking violently and terrified people cowering in shops and train stations. Houses collapsed and huge cracks appeared in roads.
The Japan Meteorological Agency warned local residents of possible further quakes during the coming week or so, particularly within the next two to three days.
Television channels interrupted normal services with special programming on New Year’s Day, including a message from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who urged people in vulnerable areas to “evacuate as soon as possible” to higher ground.
An alarmed presenter on broadcaster NHK told viewers: “We realise your home, your belongings are all precious to you, but your lives are important above everything else! Run to the highest ground possible.”
Waves at least 1.2 metres high hit the port of Wajima, and a series of smaller tsunamis were reported elsewhere, including as far away as the northern island of Hokkaido.
Japan experiences hundreds of earthquakes every year and the vast majority cause no damage.
The country has strict regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong quakes and routinely holds emergency drills.
But the country is haunted by the memory of a massive 9.0-magnitude undersea quake off northeastern Japan in March 2011, which triggered a tsunami that left around 18,500 people dead or missing.
Japan a top destination for Aussies this summer
Japan is expected to be one of the most popular overseas destinations for Australians this summer.
Tourism and Transport Forum Australia’s (TTF) summer holiday survey found the top international destination this year is New Zealand, followed by anywhere in Europe, and then Japan.
TTF chief executive Margy Osmond told news.com.au Japan had been growing in popularity for some time.
“Japan is becoming a favourite Aussie hotspot,” she said.
“The people are incredibly welcoming, the food is delicious, the culture is endlessly fascinating and it’s also a great option for anyone who loves skiing or other snow sports, as many Australians do.”
For the first time in eight years, Bali was dethroned as Aussies’ favourite spot for international travel over summer on Expedia’s ranking. Tokyo took the top spot instead.
Coming in third was Singapore, followed by Japan’s Osaka and Kyoto, then New York.
Expedia brands managing director Daniel Finch said cost of living pressures at home were causing Aussies to shake up their holiday plans.
The Japanese yen plummeted to a 15-year low against the euro in 2023.
“Japan is a really good option for people who don’t want to travel to North America or Europe but who want the snow,” Mr Finch said.
Japan has also been proved incredibly popular by Airbnb data.
A whopping eight out of the top 10 international destinations Aussies were searching for most on Airbnb from January 1 to September 15 for stays in November and December were in Japan.
Japan removed all its Covid-related travel requirements for tourists in April, including the need for Covid testing and vaccination certificates.
It means this is the first summer holiday period for Australians in years that they are able to travel freely.
– with AFP