Late summer and early autumn is typhoon season in Japan. If you’re here between August and October, it’s likely that you’ll experience at least one “tropical cyclone”. Despite the dire warnings issued on TV, typhoons generally pass over central Tokyo without doing serious damage. Those in mountainous and coastal areas usually face much bigger threats. Nervous in the metropolis and unsure of what you should be doing when a typhoon hits? Here are some hints.
Keep an eye on social media
When typhoons approach, Japanese TV and radio stations broadcast advance warnings with the expected time and area of landfall. Many schools and universities close until the worst has passed—but the shutdown announcement tends to be made at the last minute. If you work or study at an educational-type place, the first thing you need to do in a typhoon is stay glued to social media. Look at the institution’s Twitter account or Facebook page for updates—you could get the day off (though you’ll likely have to come in on a substitute day somewhere down the line).
Do also listen to emergency announcements—you’ll find out if you are in a slip-prone area or whether any special precautions need to be taken (like evacuating to shelters—though that’s very unlikely in Tokyo). If you don’t speak Japanese, ask someone who does to translate for you, or run notifications through Google Translate.
Sort out windows and potted plants
It’s advisable to close all doors and windows tightly before a typhoon (to avoid them blowing out or being otherwise damaged). You might also want to bring your potted plants, if you have any, inside so they don’t blow away. Plants don’t like extreme weather much—and in the aftermath of a typhoon you will see broken branches on trees and other sad scenes. It’s also a good idea to take down your washing pole and store it safely, if you have one that balances on hooks on your balcony or is otherwise moveable.
Don’t be afraid to go out … (maybe)
Typhoons are taken very seriously in Japan, as they should be—being extreme weather and all. People do get hurt and sometimes even killed, but this is not often the case in Tokyo central. While our preferred activity during typhoons is sipping tea at home, you can technically still go out as long as there are no high winds or heavy rains (be alert for flooding though). Unlike schools, most businesses usually stay open—so the city goes on functioning largely as normal. Just don’t expect your umbrella to remain intact for long.
Caution: Be sure to check the weather advice and whether anyone else is outside before you go for a nice long stroll. Use common sense at all times! Regardless of where you are, avoid building sites, as scaffolding can be caught by high winds and cause serious and even fatal injuries.
… but don’t do anything that relies on public transport
Trains and buses stop running or run on reduced frequency schedules during typhoons, meaning that you may get stranded if you try to get somewhere on them. Taxis tend to keep running but the demand is high—and so is the price. Bicycles are best left at home—so if you want to get somewhere, your best bet is to walk or use a private car if you have access to one.
Note that airplanes are often grounded during typhoons—sometimes even over a full day or two, meaning that domestic and international flights can be thrown off schedule.
Take advantage of the lack of queues (when it’s safe to go out)
A typhoon is one of the few times you’ll see Tokyo quiet. The streets empty out and the whole place feels pretty eerie—until you realize that you can go get a cheap haircut without having to wait an hour, not to mention buy up all the half-price bento boxes at your local supermarket and freeze them. Sports gyms and small restaurants may close in very bad weather—so if you were thinking of a gourmet lunch minus the line or a workout, call ahead to find out whether they are open or not.
No matter what you decide to do during the next typhoon, let your cheapo friends know where you are—just in case. The Japan Meteorological Agency website is useful for keeping track of typhoons and other weather things and helping you plan your movement.
Cheapo reminder: Your life is worth more than that reduced-price item at the local store and we value your readership. Keep yourself safe in the city during the typhoon! And if you live somewhere mountainous or coastal, take extreme caution!
Tokyo and Japan have a reputation for the strange and unusual museums.