Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ancient Warnings on Tsunami

"If you make a mistake, don't hesitate to correct it" - Ancient Japanese saying

Japan is over 2,700 years old. People today, all over the world, think they are smarter than people of the past. But are we? The tsunami and events of March 11, 2011 suggest that we are not. 
Wilhelm Kempff - Beethoven's Tempest Sonata 3
In a town named Aneyoshi, in northern Japan, there are stone tablets standing on mountains and hillsides warning people not to build homes in lower areas as those are areas that get hit by tsunami. Some of these tablets are over 600 years old. They warn of the dangers of building in the lower lying areas and warn of tsunami that hit the area hundreds of years ago.

The local people all know about these tablets yet, somehow, local government allowed for seawalls to be built that are not as high above sea level as these tablets are. Some families, who have lived in the area for hundreds of years did heed the warnings and they were safe.

TFD News reports:

A natural disaster as large as last month's 9.0 earthquake and tsunami happens perhaps once in a person's lifetime, at most. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the nuclear plant operator, clearly wasn't prepared. Many communities built right to the water's edge, some taking comfort, perhaps, in sea walls built after a deadly but smaller tsunami in 1960.
Many did escape, fleeing immediately after the quake. In some places, it was a matter of minutes. Others who tarried, perished.
"People had this crucial knowledge, but they were busy with their lives and jobs, and many forgot," said Yotaru Hatamura, a scholar who has studied the tablets.
One stone marker warned of the danger in the coastal city of Kesennuma: "Always be prepared for unexpected tsunamis. Choose life over your possessions and valuables."
Tetsuko Takahashi, 70, safe in her hillside house, watched from her front window as others ignored that advice. She saw a ship swept a half-mile (nearly a kilometer) inland, crushing buildings in its path.
"After the earthquake, people went back to their homes to get their valuables and stow their 'tatami' floor mats. They all got caught," she said.
Her family has lived in Kesennuma for generations, but she said those that experienced the most powerful tsunamis died years ago. She can only recall the far weaker one in 1960, generated by an earthquake off Chile.
Earlier generations also left warnings in place names, calling one town "Octopus Grounds" for the sea life washed up by tsunamis and naming temples after the powerful waves, said Fumihiko Imamura, a professor in disaster planning at Tohoku University in Sendai, a tsunami-hit city.
"It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades," he said.
The tightly knit community of Aneyoshi, where people built homes above the marker, was an exception.
"Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school," said Yuto Kimura, 12, who guided a recent visitor to one near his home. "When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground."
Aneyoshi, part of the city of Miyako, has been battered repeatedly by tsunamis, including a huge one in 1896. Isamu Aneishi, 69, said his ancestors moved their family-run inn to higher ground more than 100 years ago.
But his three grandchildren were at an elementary school that sat just 500 feet (150 meters) from the water in Chikei, a larger town down the winding, cliffside road. The school and surrounding buildings are in ruins. The bodies of his grandchildren have not been found.
Hiroshi Kosai grew up in Natori but moved away after high school. His parents, who remained in the family home, died in the disaster.
"I always told my parents it was dangerous here," said the 43-year-old Kosai, as he pointed out the broken foundation where the tablet once stood. "In five years, you'll see houses begin to sprout up here again."
As of now the toll from the disaster stands at: Over 12,000 confirmed dead with the possibility of that number climbing into the area of 25,000 people. There are still more than 100,000 people living in disaster relief centers and temporary housing is being built as quickly as possible. Please see at the very top of this blog the links to where you can donate and help these poor people.

Hopefully, these folks can get their lives and their towns back in order, but let's hope they listen to what the ancient people said.
The towns of Ishinomaki and Kesenuma may not be standing anymore, but these stone tablets warning of tsunami - some that have been around for over 600 years - are still standing today... I imagine they will still be standing another 600 years from now.
How many times will low lying towns have to be rebuilt and how many lives will be lost because of tsunami during that time?


Marc Sheffner said...

Course, those stones probably got put up AFTER thousands drowned in a big tsunami like the March 11 one. Still, perhaps the point is that in the past people paid more attention to the wisdom of their elders and ancestors than they do today.

Great blog post (better than mine on same subject). Masterful choice of music video. Brought back many memories.

Andy "In Japan" said...

It's human nature. When I lived in New Orleans in the 1980's everyone spoke about the fact that the city's levy system was not adequate to protect against a big hurricane. Everyone knew it and no one lifted a finger to do anything about it.

People who lived in vulnerable areas, even rich people at in the Lake Front district did nothing to prepare.

It just seems to be human nature that people ignore low probability events,even if the event would be catastrophic.

On the other hand, the nuke plant owners in Japan simply didn't care about the risk because they are subsidized by the government and they know they will be bailed out if the shit hits the fan.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Yes. Thanks Andy. And thank you to Big Government for subsidizing businesses and contorting the market!

Alan Engel said...

Yomiuri Shimbun http://bit.ly/elxMIu says that the Aneyoshi tablet was erected after the 1933 Showa Sanriku tsunami. No so ancient, and not ignored in Aneyoshi. Ignored elsewhere, yes.