Hiroo Onoda, the Forty-Eight-Hour Fever, and Everything We Now Know About Surviving Natural Disasters in Japan

Hiroo Onoda fought World War II for 30 years, starting in 1944.  To put that in perspective, it’s about five thousand, four hundred and seventy-five times longer than P spent battling his recent fever.

When P first spiked a temperature, I wrestled with myself over the issue of panadol. On the one hand, it would make him feel better, but on the other hand, it would make him feel better and when he’s draped listlessly over the furniture, well, it is nice and peaceful. Then the fever got so high he started vomiting and/or my conscience won through – I can’t accurately remember which came first – so I gave him the panadol and it turned out he was so sick he still didn’t want to do anything except lie in bed, so that was a relief.

In order to pass the time staying blessedly quiet for long stretches of the day, we worked on some of his initial concerns with our Japanese trip. Not jellyfish –

In Japan they eat jellyfish for breakfast.

In Japan they eat jellyfish for breakfast. Source

– but getting washed away in a tsunami, closely followed by being crushed in an earthquake and choking on volcanic ash. “Japan is on the Rim Of Fire!” he’d gasped, as if it were late 1993 and I’d just announced a lovely family holiday to downtown Mogadishu. Then he’d wondered, essentially, if we couldn’t find a safer place to strap slippery pieces of fibreglass to our feet and go hurtling down a mountain in the snow.

We’ve reviewed several methods of dealing with this irrationally-fearful aspect of his personality, from acquiescing to his suggestions that we stay home and watch National Geographic documentaries on our intended destination (which only invited new concerns over obesity and heart disease and also mental health problems because the boy goes insane if he doesn’t exercise vigorously for at least three hours a day), to cheerfully tolerating his incessant nail biting, throwing in a few exasperated requests to knock it off every now and then for variety (which failed because neither cheerfulness nor tolerance is my strong suit, at least not when I’m being forced into several hours’ worth of vigorous exercise).

Nowadays we prefer to exploit his anxiety for our own ends celebrate his uniqueness for the benefit of all. Upon hearing his natural-disaster-related concerns, I appointed him Trip Safety Officer and whisked him off to the science centre so he could learn more about tsunamis, volcanos and earthquakes.

At the Singapore Science Centre you can go right inside a volcano. (You can also observe a tsunami and experience an earthquake.)

At the Singapore Science Centre you can go right inside a volcano. (You can also observe a tsunami and experience an earthquake.)

Then Hiroo Onoda died. He lived to be ninety-one years old in the end, but when he took his guerrilla training and his orders to the jungle of Lubang Island in the Philippines in 1944 he was only twenty-three. For thirty years – until 1974 – he fought tenaciously, finally ceasing when he was persuaded to surrender by his former commanding officer. In his later life, he taught survival skills to Japanese youth. I began to feel we could do him the honour of carrying forth a small part of his legacy.

A swiftly volunteered to reiterate his lesson on tsunami early warning signs:

Well before the sea pulls back from the shore, its surface is often grows foamy, not unlike the head of a beer.

Before a tsunami arrives, the surface of the sea often grows foamy, not unlike the head of a beer. Then it recedes rapidly.

…whilst I headed for the library and from there, to the internet. Here’s what we now know about surviving natural disasters in Japan.

Everything We Now Know About Surviving Natural Disasters in Japan

We know what an earthquake and tsunami warning looks like on Japanese TV. At least, we know what they used to look like in 2011, and we presume the format is fairly similar. Warnings are usually delivered within three minutes of the first signs. Update: see more examples of alerts on TV, home computer, and mobile phone.

Update: you can also get tsunami alerts on your mobile phone, worldwide. Free and paid services exist.

We know these warnings – as well as warnings of volcanic eruptions – are the work of the Japan Meteorological Agency and that there was a major overhaul of the system between 2011 and 2013, with more and better sensors placed around the land and ocean of Japan, plus a revamped operational structure. Update: you can also read this explanation of how the warning system works and also this one, which has more pictures and fewer words.

We know a good online disaster response game called Disaster Master, which goes through scenarios such as house fires and hurricanes, as well as earthquakes and tsunamis (if not volcanos). And also a slightly more advanced disaster planning game called Stop Disasters, although it seems like the Japan Meteorological Agency have the high score locked in on that one already.

And who wouldn’t trust this step by step emergency response guide for volcanic eruptions, complete with colourful cartoon drawings, from WikiHow?

Update: here’s a full round of information on evacuating Mount Fuji, specifically.

We are also assured that if we do need to abandon our stuff in the event of a tsunami, there is a small chance it will wash up next year in Alaska and some kind fellow will return it.

Finally, we’ve decided what we’ll be singing for entertainment if we’re holed up at an emergency camp somewhere on our journey, because we can be tasteless like that.

I’m not sure if P’ll be well enough to go to school tomorrow. As of lunch time today he’s recovered only to the point of being an enormously-cranky ars- pants – a fact chiefly responsible for the tone of this post. If he stays home, we’re totally researching avalanche survival techniques, followed by who knows what other adventurous fare. The only thing I won’t teach him is how to find his way home from a service station in the middle of rural Japan using only his wits, one or two words of the local language gleaned mainly from the song Elle (Life In Japan With Toddlers) suggested, and a grubby fistful of yen. I want to keep that a mystery in case we have a repeat of this afternoon’s behaviour on our trip.


Obviously he’s still sick today, which means YOU get this BONUS UPDATE. (He’s a lot less cranky, though, so I think we’ll be ok.)

The kids’ guide to staying safe in cold weather from dressing warmly to heading indoors before your bits drop off from frostbite.

Everything you need to know about how to stay safe whilst sledding or skiing.

What to do in case of a blizzard.

How to build a snow coffin (or snow “cave”, as I translated so as to make it sound less macabre) for shelter. You can also try your hand at an igloo {video}.

The all-important wikihow guide to avalanche survival.

And most importantly: how to build a snowman – advice with cartoon pictures and a video from wikiHow, or check out this other instructional video.


The Travelling Frenchies are handing out their safety tips for Victoria, Australia (focus: beaches and bush fires).

And Fanny P has recently reviewed Stranger Danger with her children, with… some? success.

And Matt shows us how zoos in Japan would re-capture their gorillas after an earthquake (costume dramatisation).