Japan is by no means new to earthquakes. With a history of terrifying natural events, it stands out as one of the most disaster-prone and disruptive geographic regions on the planet. Some of the most catastrophic and economically crippling natural disasters have occurred in Japan, costing the country nearly 200 billion dollars in an exhausting task of reform and recovery every decade or so.
The country has experienced innumerable instances of nature’s unrelenting onslaught and has had to contend with its harsh consequences at the cost if its growth, economic development, and the safety of its citizens. A string of traumatic and harrowing natural events has shaken Japan from time to time and the country has resiliently endured devastating tsunamis, floods, and typhoons and above all, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions of cataclysmic proportion.
Japan is home to 10 percent of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes and over 60 volcanoes threatening to erupt at any time. Among the country’s most dreaded active volcanoes are Mount Fuji, located around the outskirts of Tokyo; Sakurajima, a few hundred meters from the city of Kagoshima; Mount Asama on Japan’s main island of Honshu; Shinmoedake, famously depicted in the James Bond classic You Only Live Twice; and the towering Mount Aso, believed to be one of the world’s largest active volcanoes.
The Sakurajima volcano enjoys the distinction of having erupted over 200 times in one year and is possibly on the verge of unleashing another major catastrophe any time soon. Over two centuries ago, the collapse of one of Japan’s Mount Uzen’s lava domes precipitated a deadly mega-tsunami which obliterated over 15,000 people in what is still known as Japan’s deadliest volcanic incident in history. Mount Uzen constitutes one of the more active volcanic groups on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu. The long-lasting repercussions of its horrid 1792 eruption still continue to trouble the Pacific nation.
In 2014, over 50 people perished in the aftermath of an eruption on Mount Ontake, also located on the Japanese island of Honshu. The event was recorded as the world’s deadliest in 20 years while petrifying images of the eruption were captured from space by NASA’s Earth Observatory. For many Japanese, bitter memories of another deadly 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August of 2005 are still afresh. Back then, disaster struck east Honshu leading to considerable infrastructure collapse and extreme power outages across extensive swathes of the island.
On March 11, 2011, another calamity of unfathomable proportions stunned the nation when a magnitude-9 earthquake rattled northeastern Japan, unleashing a fierce 100-ft monster-tsunami that slammed into Miyako city, advancing miles inland and inundating a staggering 200 square miles. The number of confirmed fatalities was nearly 16,000 as of April 10, 2015, with over 2,000 missing according to Japanese sources. Many people perished under the weight of the monstrous tide. The event triggered a major cooling-system collapse at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, sparking a nuclear emergency and instantly exposing hundreds of thousands of nearby settlers to an ensuing deluge of toxic radioactive elements.
In 1993, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked Japan in a succession of tremors that lasted minutes, sparking a 10-meter tsunami decimating the coastline and killing hundreds. By far, the worst earthquake in the country’s history struck in 1923, almost entirely annihilating the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama. The 8.2-magnitude “Great Kanto” earthquake wrecked unprecedented havoc on these cities igniting a string of deadly fires that enveloped settlements and reduced neighborhoods to rubble.
Japan’s capital city Tokyo sits atop the highly volatile “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a tectonic plate that causes most of the world’s deadliest earthquakes. According to a 2015 survey, Tokyo’s extreme vulnerability to natural disasters makes it the world’s second most disaster-prone capital after Taipei. Experts predict that the city risks economic losses exceeding billions dollars of its GDP owing to its vulnerability.
Last year, Japan hosted the international conference on disaster prevention in Sendai with the mission to adopt a new global framework to respond to the natural disasters during the coming decade. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 succeeds the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015. Its 2015 preamble neatly encapsulates some of the improved disaster-risk-reduction measures that world countries have introduced.
“Effective disaster risk management contributes to sustainable development. Countries have enhanced their capacities in disaster risk management. International mechanisms for strategic advice, coordination and partnership development for disaster risk reduction, such as the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the regional platforms for disaster risk reduction, as well as other relevant international and regional forums for cooperation, have been instrumental in the development of policies and strategies and the advancement of knowledge and mutual learning.”
Japan has had a turbulent history, marked by the most terrifying natural disasters imaginable. With over 20 percent of the world’s large earthquakes mercilessly pounding its lands, its extensive coastline makes the island country increasingly susceptible to giant tsunamis rising from the depths of the Pacific. However, the Japanese people are among the most resilient and prepared nations on the planet, with communities cognizant of nature’s pernicious dangers that lurk in the very heart of their beautiful, dynamic, and stunningly scenic Pacific homeland.
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