Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pessimist or Optimist

I’m an optimist, but at the mid-March, I wrote back to one of email I received that I thought the whole Japan was going underneath the water. Only a moment perhaps, but the thought zipped past through my mind. The ocean didn’t, but ashes buried Pompeii.

Terada Torahiko, a physicist and author, wrote the following in 1924. It was a year after the great Kanto earthquake occurred and left 140,000 dead. Mostly they died of unruly fires. I’m glad that he didn’t live to see 3/11.

“Some (Japanese) people say Japan is an earthquake country and become pessimistic.

Very rare but some so-called non-earthquake countries had triggered pretty big earthquakes in the past. And there is still a chance of seeing a large scale earthquake.

The fault made by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake extended 450 km. The 1920 Kansu earthquake in China left 100,000 dead.

Thinking about the kind of country Japan is, it has always been having small earthquakes little by little. But, for other seemingly safe countries, isn’t it possible that an unprecedented earthquake of once 3000 or 5000 years could happen and destroy a country all at once? To research all the facts to find out, the human history is too short.

The 3000th or 5000th year could arrive tomorrow. At such time, the people of such country might become envious of earthquake Japan.”


Vincent said...

I’ve appreciated your optimism all the more these past weeks, Keiko - the sense you have conveyed that life goes on, Japan is not destroyed, just roused to affirm its great strengths.

Your post talks about the possibility of a whole country being destroyed. I wonder if you can throw light on a question which sometimes puzzles me: how we can worry about large-scale catastrophe, extinction and so on, in a sense more than about our own individual death?

I know I am capable of worrying about many things, more than about death. But then, I have never stared death in the face. Nor been close to a big catastrophe.

I didn’t know about the Kanto or Kansu earthquakes at all.

keiko amano said...

Hi Vincent,

About worry, I don’t know. People deal with it differently. I felt unreal for what was happening.

We had so far more than 500 aftershocks over magnitude 5. It’s been shaking ever since 3/11 without a day of rest. And aftershocks have been happening from the north to the south including Kumamoto, Kyushu. For last twenty or thirty years before 3/11, we had been told that magnitude 8.0 or so could hit Kanto anytime. It did happen, and it was much larger, 9.0. Also, we’ve been told that a Tokai (near Mt Fuji) earthquake could happen within 30 years.

I’ve known Japan is earthquake country, but after I researched the history of earthquakes, I was amazed. Between 1896 and 2000, we had 30 major earthquakes, not to mention volcanoes, floods, or mud slides. In the northeast, they had a major earthquake and tsunami in 869, 1896, and 1933, and their tsunamis were 10, 20, and 30 meters high. Other ones happened all over Japan, and it seemed each time, people said, unprecedented for one reason or another.

One astonishing fact was Matsushiro Swarm Earthquakes. It started in August 1965 and lasted five and a half years. Total number of shaking that human felt was 62,826. At the peak, it shook 600 times in one day. The head of the town said, “Right now, what we need the most is the education on earthquakes.”

Another shocking fact I’ve found was that we had a major earthquake in 1943, 1944, and 1945. That means that Japan was heading to lose in the WWII while at home, people were starving, and on top of that, we had three major earthquakes.

What I’ve learned from the above facts is that we can do something to minimize the risk. I can see clearly that from Great Kanto Earthquake, we learned to stop fires right after the earthquake so that the number of fires after earthquakes dropped dramatically after 1923.
About the tsunamis in the northeast, in 1896, 8.5 earthquake and tsunami killed 21,959. And in 1933, 8.1 earthquake and tsunami killed 3064. Both had close to 30 meter tall tsunamis. The reason the 1933 earthquake resulted in less death is that the older folks who experienced the 1896 earthquake and tsunami were still alive in 1933 and led the people to safety. I don’t know what happened afterward exactly, but we ignored the wisdom of our ancestors I guess.