Over the past month, two fairly major typhoons have come by Okinawa, and though we are by no means “experts” in our experience of typhoons, we thought that the weather nuts among you might be interested to read about some of the things we’ve learnt.

A typhoon is basically the same as a hurricane. The only difference is really its location. Hurricanes originate in the Atlantic or East Pacific Oceans, whereas typhoons originate in the west Pacific. There is a popular myth that typhoons spin in the opposite direction to hurricanes, but this only happens is if a typhoon occurs south of the equator.

Our first exposure to the Japanese attitude regarding typhoons came in Peter’s ESL class when he asked the students what they typically did to prepare for typhoons. Everybody started smiling. Staying home from work on a “typhoon day” is typically greeted with the same anticipation as a Canadian might treat a “snow day”!
Okinawa is remarkably well-prepared to handle typhoons. Our island doesn’t experience many earthquakes, so rather than using buildings built largely of wood as in the rest of Japan (so that they flex with earthquakes), Okinawan buildings are built primarily of reinforced concrete. Everything is reinforced here to better handle typhoons – even the trees! I’ve included a picture to show you some “reinforced trees”.

Because everything is so well-built, unless a typhoon is a category four or higher there’s really not that much to be concerned about. Sometimes power or water will be knocked out. So, we always have large spare bottles of water, canned food, battery-power, and our crank-operated radio on hand. With all of the natural disasters that Japan faces, emergency preparedness handbooks and kits are everywhere.

It seems to us that the Japanese just refer to typhoons by their number, rather than a name. Each year, the numbering system is reset. The two biggest typhoons that we’ve experienced so far are typhoons #15 and #16. Here are some pictures of them.

Typhoon #15 (a category four, named “Bolaven” for the non-Japanese) was the biggest typhoon to hit Okinawa in thirteen years.

Typhoon #16 (“Sanba”) started out as a category 5, but by the time it hit us it had been downgraded to a category four, and later to a category three. We’re not entirely sure of the translation, but our Japanese friends told us that when it was a category five #16 was either the biggest, or one of the biggest, typhoons in our area in recorded history. At one point, its winds were at about 290 km/h!

(Picture source 1, source 2, source 3)