The earth's crust is broken up into several plates which we call tectonic plates. These plates are constantly moving over or under each other creating seismic activity such as earthquakes. Japan is located over and in fact has been formed by the interaction of three of these tectonic plates--the Philippine Sea Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the Eurasian Plate. Because of this, Japan is one of the most seismically active places in the world.

Earthquakes are a very real part of Japanese life so you should be prepared.

Your university may give you basic earthquake safety training, the gist of which is to get yourself under something sturdy like a table or bed. If one is unavailable, a doorway is the least likely part of a building's structure to collapse so head for one of those if you don't have any other options.

A few minutes after the earthquake has passed, check for fire and make sure the gas is turned off. Be sure to leave the building if it seems that it is likely to collapse. Once you have ensured your own safety, you are responsible for others near you like your roommates or neighbors. Unless your own safety is at risk, check on them to make sure that they are all right.

The emergency number in Japan is, funnily enough, 119. Dial this number to call for a fire engine or ambulance. A fire engine is called a "shobosha" pronounced "shō-bō-shaa" and an ambulance is called a "kyukyusha." To say, "Please send fire engines and an ambulance," say, "Shobosha to kyukyusha wo onegaishimasu." If you are new to the Japanese language, please refer to the pronunciation section of the Japanese language page to learn how to pronounce these words.

The American Embassy in Japan has tons of more useful earthquake information should you want to find out more. Click here to be directed to the earthquake section on its official website.