ciee - council on international educational exchange

Japan - Dealing with a Disaster

A current events lesson for use with grade levels 9-12. Dealing with the aftermath of the recent 9.0 magnitude earthquake and what lies ahead for the people of Japan.



Japan has been through a natural disaster of a magnitude that most of us will never experience. Earthquakes are a regular event and part of the Japanese way of life, yet all of the preparations they have made could not avert the tsunami and destructive power that is associated with an earthquake of the magnitude that struck on March 11th, 2011. When a disaster strikes, the world takes notice, and they become involved to help any way they can.

How often after the disaster loses it "appeal" in the news do we lose focus on how they are recovering and what other issues they are facing long after the earthquake? This current events lesson addresses the events that have followed the earthquake and what the Japanese people will be coping with for many years, if not decades.

Questions to test knowledge


Using these questions as a guide - see how well informed your students are about the recent events in Japan. (Present these using PowerPoint as individual slides or go to to create online quizzes related to this information)

  • Who can name this country?
  • What disaster hit Japan in March 2011?
  • What was the magnitude of the earthquake? (9.0)
  • What secondary disaster happened as a result of the earthquake? (Nuclear Power Plant Meltdown)
  • How many people have been displaced as a result of the nuclear disaster? (200,000)
  • Have students tell you at least one nuclear disaster that has happened besides Japan. Discuss how those events occurred and the result (ex:Three Mile Island, Chernobyl)

Insight and Perspective from a Japanese Exchange Student


To gain a personal perspective on the event in Japan, we have a Japanese exchange student - Akia -that has spent their 2010-11 school year in Michigan. She lives in the far south of Japan on the island of Kyushu.

Q: Although you live far away from the center of the disasters, that were a result of the earthquake, how has this affected yourself (friends, family)?
A: "I have a cousin that lives south of Tokyo which is a good distance away from the earthquake and he said that he has been through many earthquakes, but this one he did not think he would live through it because it was so much worse than any before. I also have a friend who lives near Sendai (devastated by earthquake and the tsunami) and she is also an exchange student this year. Her family survived but they have never found her boyfriend and he is listed as deceased. In Tokyo a friend told me has she has lost many friends and family and is very badly depressed, while another friend posts to her blog "give me back my home and my family - I am lost."

Q: Many people around the world have helped in Japan's time of need, how do you feel about that?
A: "The Japanese people have some together and are very close right now. Japan is very grateful for all of the countries that are helping". There are several websites for sending messages to the Japanese people:

Use the links above to show students what is being said and the number of places around the world that have posted. Have students post a message to the people of Japan at the end of this lesson.

Q: What sort of thoughts went through your mind when you heard of the disaster and then seeing the video footage?
A: "I was shocked, it seemed very strange to watch this and not be in my country. I really felt the need to help somehow, so I talked with my high school principal about raising some money to help. We were able to raise over $200 in three days and sent the money to the Red Cross. I would have liked to do more though but it is very hard to do from so far away. I am very happy to see how much the United States is helping and it makes me proud to be an exchange student in America."

Aika is a student in 10th grade and will return to Japan in June of 2011

Activities Related to Recent Event in Japan


The following activities will develop a better understanding of the natural events that caused the disaster in Japan.

  • Have students pair up and go to the USGS web site. Have students draw names of regions to research the earthquake activity by region, using this spreadsheet have students complete the information using the web site. (There are only 11 regions so feel free to duplicate as needed for classes over 22 students).
  • Using the internet have students find an explanation of the Richter Scale and how it is applied. See Scholastic for a simplified explanation of the Scale. Have students pair up again and have them develop a brief activity to help others learn about the Richter Scale and then share them to test and see if other students in class can complete them (ex: matching, illustrated descriptions (label numbers), list chart and label the levels of destruction based on the number shown)

Current Issues following the Earthquake and Tsunami


There are many issues that follow a disaster, the Japanese people have shown uncommon behavior during this tragic event. They have remained calm, they share food willingly, no looting has occurred immediately following the disaster, and they have shown determination in the worst conditions. Using the following video clip, lead discussions based on the cultural differences of Japan and the United States.

Extra discussion item: After watching these videos lead the discussion as to why students think this has been the norm in Japan but was not the norm during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

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