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Japan’s Emergency Signs Guide Travelers to Safety During Disasters

Multilingual, high-visibility directions to refuge areas


Natural disasters can strike at any time. When disaster hits, there may be many different ways to seek shelter depending on the situation. But how can you make sure you find the right refuge area?

Refuge areas for different types of disasters

Not every natural disaster causes damage in the same way. For instance, a refuge area appropriate for landslides may not be as suitable for floods. Every designated refuge area in Japan has a sign which displays what type of disaster the space is built for to prevent confusion. More signs around the area show directions to the site for safer evacuation.

Example of a sign at a designated refuge area

Comprehensive guidance system

Japanese Industrial Standards (JIS) established the “Hazard Specific Evacuation Guidance Sign System” in March 2016. The system was developed in partnership with relevant ministries and departments in the Japanese government. Most importantly, it outlines a comprehensive system that combines warning signs at high-risk areas with informational signs that direct evacuees to safety in the event of a disaster.

Example of the Hazard Specific Evacuation Guidance Sign System

This system covers every kind of potential disaster. For example, in an area at risk for debris flow a thin flow composed of approx. 30% soil and 70% water a warning sign (figure (1) above) is displayed in high-risk locations. Next, evacuation plan signs (figure (2)) show maps and general information related to potential evacuations. Evacuation route signs (figure (3)) are placed along roads or buildings to guide people step-by-step towards evacuation sites. At the site itself, an overall refuge area sign (figure (4)) includes specific information for evacuees and outlines the types of disasters the site is designed for.

Anytime, anywhere, for anybody

Japan’s system also outlines measures to make evacuation signs highly visible in the dark using larger letters and reflective paint, as well as display information in multiple languages for international residents and visitors. The Cabinet Office and the Fire and Disaster Management Agency will continue to educate communities and organizations around Japan about the system to improve public safety and disaster resilience.

Last updated:2018-12-10