Geography 312 – Term Paper
Alexandra Bradshaw – 301144682
March 29th, 2012
On March 11th 2011, Japan suffered a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off its northern coast, followed by an enormous tsunami which took the lives of around 20,000 people. An earthquake of this magnitude had never been experienced in the history of mankind, and came as a shock to many seismologists. With the title of being the most earthquake prepared country in the world, Japan was thought to be properly armed against any quake that came its way. Mitigation efforts are the most technological of anywhere in the world, and ensuring people are prepared for such events has been an important task since the last devastating earthquake in 1995 in the city of Kobe. These efforts include building codes, early warning systems, coastline defences and various others. Even after a year, Japan is still reeling from this event, and one wonders if they will ever bounce back from such a blow to their landscape, their people, and their economy. The questions to be asked then are why did so many people perish in this disaster (even with the most advanced warning systems), and what can Japan do to revitalize itself with regards to physical, cultural, and economical adaptations? Japan’s Earthquake History
The people of Japan have been recording their earthquakes since the dawn of imperialism – at least 1600 years ago (Bressen, 2011) – and have since had various explanations for these rumblings. According to Japanese folklore, the earthquakes were caused by an enormous catfish named Namazu who was buried in the ground and subsequently would cause the quakes with the shaking of his tail (Bressen, 2011). Even with the modern era, naturalists would write off earthquakes as being punishment for greedy people by the gods. Only until recently have investigating the real cause of these earthquakes come to fruition. Japan lies within the “Ring of Fire”, an area in the Pacific Ocean subject to much seismic activity, and is situated where 4 of these great lithospheric plates (the Pacific, the Philippine, the Eurasian and the North American plate) collide and scrape past each other. Most of the earthquakes occur along Japan’s northern expansive coastline, and more often than not are followed by tsunamis of varying height. These earthquakes can occur in two different places: within a plate or between plate boundaries, or inland in shallow crustal areas (Ikeuchi and Isago 2007). The latter of the two can cause more building damage, but with the earthquake being inland, they don’t usually cause a tsunami. The March 11th Earthquake was the 3rd Great (7.0 or higher on the Richter scale) earthquake of the 20th century: the first was the Kanto earthquake (Stanley and Irving 2001) in 1923 which killed over 130,000 people (slated as the deadliest quake in Japan’s history), and the second was the 1995 Kobe earthquake which took the lives of over 5,000 people (2002). Mitigation Techniques Pre-March 11th
Japan has certainly always been the most prepared country with regards to earthquakes, especially vis-à-vis its past quake events. Some areas are more protected than others, mostly in the northern coastal areas of the country. Before the March 11th earthquake, Japan set up a Wide Area Support System that would, in the event of an earthquake, immediately dispatch emergency response teams and other important rescue teams (EERI 2011). Also, Japan has the only Earthquake warning system in the world, using state of the art technology to warn individuals of earthquakes before they happen and prior to the March 11th earthquake the system had never been used before (JMA 2012). This system would allow for people to mitigate themselves by quickly ducking or removing themselves from potentially harmful situations (JMA 2012). The way the system works is that it sends out alerts via social media, i.e. cellphones, television, radio, and internet sites, which in...