by Tessa

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Earthquakes
  3. Tsunamis
  4. Volcanoes
  5. Typhoons
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

INTRODUCTION I am going to do my report on natural disasters in Japan. Japan has had trouble with many different natural disasters, and I am going to talk about the most common ones. The most common natural disaster is earthquakes. Japan can have up to 5000 earthquakes each year. Earthquakes can also form tsunamis, which are large waves that crash up against the shore and can wash away people, buildings, and bridges.

One other disaster is a volcanic eruption. There are many volcanoes in Japan that are still live. A volcanic eruption can pour ash and lava all over the city. This can be a big disaster.

I will also be talking about typhoons. Typhoons in Japan come in August, when it hits the heavy rain season. Typhoons can bring wind and rain that causes much damage, including landslides and floods.

In the following chapters, I will talk about these different natural disasters, and I will share examples of each disaster that have occurred in Japan over the past years.


Earthquakes are the most common natural disaster in Japan. Japan has continuous earthquake activity because of it's position. It sits on a subduction zone, which is where one plate is being forced beneath another. It is also at the meeting point of two pieces of the giant Pacific plate, which are moving in different directions along side each other. In Japan, hardly a day will go by without an earthquake. Most of these earthquakes are very minor, though every year there are a few that are strong.

The fact that homes and buildings were built so close to each other and were made of paper and wood and that open fires were used for lighting, cooking, and heating a long ago made it easy for fires to start during earthquakes. The damage would be terrible.

The worst earthquake of modern days struck in Tokyo and Yokohama on September 1, 1923. The quake ruined several hundred thousand homes and buildings, the fires that followed caused more damage. In this earthquake, more than one hundred and forty thousand people were killed. The heat of the fires was so bad that it caused tornado-like winds. One large group of people that were in a shallow lake around Asakusa of Tokyo died when the fierce winds and fires sucked all the oxygen out of the air around them.

Today, Japan has strict building codes to make them stand up better in earthquakes. The Government has also organized disaster-prevention and relief measures.

More recently, at the time of the first anniversary of the moment magnitude (M.W.)6.7 1994 Northridge (California) Earthquake, Kobe, Japan was hit by an M.W. 7.2 earthquake. The date was Tuesday, January 17, 1995. Both earthquakes struck in the pre-dawn hours, both began beneath densely populated areas and both caused horrible damage, though in Kobe there were a lot more deaths and financial losses. In Japan, earthquakes are measured with a shindo scale. It is the same as the Richter scale we use. "Shin" means "to shake" and "do" means "degree". The Kobe quake therefore measured 7.2 shindo.

Kenji Rikitake, a Japanese citizen who reported over the Internet all that was happening during the days following the quake said, "the morning video clips near Sannomiya station were really eerie. Incredible silence. Voice over of the announcer, rubble crunching underfoot. Occasionally punctuated by voices of rescue workers."*

The buildings built before 1981 (concrete-frame buildings) performed very poorly in Kobe, with many collapses. Post-1981 buildings performed much better. Some were damaged badly, but most had not very much damage. The buildings that stayed the best and those without significant damage, had strong concrete shear walls.

* Rikitake, Kenji, Kobe Earthquake Diary (1995 Yaseppochi-gumi).

Most of the buildings collapsed at one floor suffered from natural disasters in many of the buildings there was very little damage on the upper floors. (the city hospital in kobe showed lots of damage everywhere. the fifth floor of seven floors collapsed and 38 people got trapped between the floors.) buildings built on softer soil had greater damage. large steel-framed buildings worked better than any other type of building.

Transportation is important. Nationalized in the year 1907 a number of major expressways, rail lines and bridges, some even very modern design, were badly damaged. highways split in half, then everything would be sucked in. a lot of bridges and bridge approaches were badly damaged. all buses and trains were shut down. cars could not drive on roads. people had to ride bikes or walk.

The Japanese have built dikes which are large walls on the sand so that big waves can't wash out their city. During the earthquake in Kobe the dikes broke which flooded some areas.

The Port of Kobe, which was new, is now devastated by a widespread and a severe liquefaction and permanent ground deformation, which destroyed over 90% of the ports one hundred and eighty-seven berths and damaged or destroyed most large cranes. Shipping was canceled for months, some shipping business will never happen in Kobe again.

The gas system had major damage done generally caused by ground or building failure, which also made the fires worse. forty-eight seven hundred thousand houses in Kobe without gas. Gas is the main heat source for hot water, regular heat and cooking.

One Japanese citizen said " In Kobe, the gas service has been stopped. It probably won't be restored for a while due to the damage of fires. There must be tens of thousands of gas leaks in the area. Water is scarce, which is making it difficult to deal with the hundreds of fires. A fire department representative said they're doing the best they can, and they're very happy that the toll from fires is not much higher than it is. The fires themselves are isolated, and mostly contained. The news casters are saying "beware of gas, avoid using the phones except for calls to emergency services, be prepared for aftershocks, possibly big ones, stay tuned."**

Over 350 fires occurred in the Southern Hyogo area and burned about a hundred hectares of populated areas in the hours after the earthquake. Fires became out of control and firefighters could not put them out for two reasons. On, because buildings had fallen into the streets preventing fire trucks from getting to the fires. The second reason is because the water pipes were broken so they did not have any water to put them out. Damage caused 800,000 houses to have no gas or water. Remember, this would mean no heat during this freezing month. Electricity and telecommunications were also cut off. The total damage has been estimated to be up to 140 billion U.S. dollars. One witness said "Hundreds of people are just camped out in schools and public halls. Video clips of people bottling water fountaining from a manhole cover, must be a broken water main."*** This event that only lasted twenty seconds caused 5,500 deaths and an economic loss that is greater than the gross national product of many countries.
** Rikitake, Kenji, Kobe Earthquake Diary ( 1995 Yaseppochi-gumi).

On the next pages I have included an Unofficial Report of 1995 South Hyogo Earthquake that was posted on the Internet during this disaster time, a brief description from a Japanese University student at Awajishima (he witnessed things at the epicenter), and an interview with a scientist who witnessed the quake and its' aftermath.

*** Rikitake, Kenji, Kobe Earthquake Diary ( 1995 Yaseppochi-gumi).

"January 17th, 1995, at 5:46 in the morning when everybody was still in bed, from this moment, Kansai area turned into a burning hell. In just half a minute, the monster had broken down everything in the city. Houses, buildings, factories, schools, shops, roads, and railroads, everything in the city was gone. All you could see was a red sky filled with fire, and smoke coming out from the buildings. The monster's name was an M 7.2 earthquake. This tragedy had happened so quickly and unconsciously that no one could realize what had happened and thought this must be a dream at first. But this was not any dream. This reality made more than 6,000 dead people and 300,000 homeless people. People were crying and did not know what to do. I am sure that if I were in this situation, that all of the sudden you lost your family and house to live in and your home town is burning down, I could not do anything and just stand there like my mind had gone to some where out in space. But reality is reality, and we have to accept what is in front of us. Six months had passed from this unforgettable happening and people in Kobe accepted the reality very well. People are trying hard to bring the city back again to what it used to be. What did we learn from this tragedy? What did the government do in this situation? What should we do from now on to prevent this kind of tragedy? These questions are very important to consider for everyone's future."****

**** Kubota,Shinya, Japanese University student at Awajishima (epicenter for 1995 South Hyogo quake)
Date: Wed, 22 Jan 97 16:02:35 JST
From: terril
To: p
Subject: Re: question from John's niece
Dear Roadrunner,

Unfortunately I do not have much time to elaborate on your questions right now,but I will simply provide these simple answers :

1. can you tell me how you felt at the time of the 1995 kobe quake?

1) at the time of the kobe earthquake, i was actually at a friend's house in osaka because monday, 16 january 1995 was a national holiday. osaka's quite close to kobe (about 30kms) but of course the tremor was not as bad in osaka as in kobe. anyway, as the tremor began and increased in magnitude, i was lying in my futon at that friend's place and curiously enough, did not become scared. things shook quite a lot around me, but the only thing i was thinking about at that time is : "darn, another of those earthquakes ! i just want to sleep " (it was 5:46 in the morning). i then fell asleep, woke up again around 7:30 a.m., just one second before a relatively strong aftershock occurred. my friend and i then saw on cnn tv the extensive damage that had occurred in kobe and were really surprised and shocked. we saw buildings burning, devastation, etc...., but that was still on tv only.

2. what things did you see after the quake?

2) as i knew i would be stuck in osaka for weeks at least because of course all train lines were stopped, and since i really wanted to get back to the west of kobe to see if my apartment was still standing, i bought a bicycle, and 2 days after the quake (i wanted to leave earlier but my mother, whom i could fortunately reach in canada by phone from osaka, really opposed my attempting anything and made me promise to stay put....a promise which i broke the following day), i traveled 80 kms in 7hrs, almost non-stop, to get back home, with my bicycle. as i was nearing the center of kobe, i saw such devastation, as if the city had been bombed, that i really felt devastated myself. old people were still looking for personal items in the rubble of their house, buildings were completely destroyed or severely damaged, twisted pieces of metal everywhere, pieces of glass, rubble, etc.... . i had a camera but felt that it would not be decent to take pictures at that time, as i was traveling, although some other people were doing so (i took some pictures a few weeks later, though). as i was approaching kobe from the east (i.e., from osaka), i saw an increasing number of people with personal belongings either going to osaka to flee from kobe, or going to kobe, probably to search for relatives. everybody looked like refugees. as i was going away from kobe on the west side later, the damage gradually lessened. at the center of kobe, everything looked deserted, i had an eerie feeling for about 10 minutes of being very much alone, although i could hear sirens in the distance. in the weeks and months later, as train lines were gradually restored, there was a lot more devastation i saw. it really depressed me intensely for quite a while.

3. what types of things went wrong?

3) many things were wrong : fires due to gas leaks, people dying in the fires of their homes, japanese self-defense forces preferentially rescuing japanese citizens rather than foreigners in some cases, a quarantine imposed to rescue dogs from switzerland (or france, i do not remember right now) that probably prevented saving some lives, a general slowliness of the japanese government to react to the situation and inadequacy too, too much ego and pride in not accepting foreign aid at first, etc......... the list could go on and on but on the whole, the japanese population in kobe conducted itself admirably, with calm and resiliency. no panic, almost no looting. imagine what it would have been in the us !!

4. is everything back to normal now?

4) things are pretty back to normal now, the people in kobe really worked very hard to restoring things to normal and many things (like train lines, etc...) resumed ahead of schedule. but you still have several thousand people living in prefabricated houses and waiting to get to live in more natural conditions, i.e. , an apartment. if you need more specific info, please don't hesitate to ask me. take care and good luck,



A tsunami is another natural disaster. They occur in Japan for two reasons, one because Japan is surrounded by water. Two, because Japan has a lot of earthquakes which cause tsunamis.

A tsunami is a tidal wave. When a tsunami approaches shore it starts to slow down and grow in height. Like other water waves, tsunamis start losing energy as they get closer to shore. Some of the water energy is bounced off shore. Though this happens tsunamis still reach the coast with major amounts of energy. Tsunamis can strip beaches of sand that might have taken years to form there. They can also suck up trees and other plants. Tsunamis are capable of flooding hundreds of meters of land. Tsunamis can crush homes and structures along the coast. The tsunamis' height can reach up to 10, 20, and even 30 meters.

One tsunami took place in Hokkaido on July 12, 1993 at 17 minutes past 10 p.m.. A 7.8 earthquake occurred off the west coast of Hokkaido in the Sea of Japan. The earthquake formed a tsunami which hit the coast line of nearby Okushiri Island and the central west coast of Hokkaido within minutes. There was an estimate of $800 million in property loss. Over 120 people were killed in Japan by the tsunami.

In the next few pages I will show some pictures of what happened in the Hokkaido tsunami. These pictures were taken by Commander Dennis J. Sigrist, acting Director of the International Tsunaimi Information Center, Hawaii.

Steps were installed for residents to easily walk between the housing area on the bluff ( not visible) and the community area near the sea. Many residents remembered the May 1983 earthquake and tsunami and used this previous to escape the deadly tsunami waves in 1993, using the steps as the fastest way to safety.

Battery operated clocks were found scattered in the mess and provide a rough estimate of the approaching time of the destructive waves. The salt water shorted the clocks batteries. This clock shows a travel time of fifteen minutes following the earthquake.

A fishing boat is beached near a damaged fire truck.

These boats were beached up into a seafood processing plant.

The village of Monai, west Okushiri Island. The place was completely destroyed by the tsunami. Ten people were killed and twelve houses were destroyed.


Japan is covered in mountainous arcs. Volcanoes are common in Japan. The volcanoes throughout the Kuril Islands, northeastern Honshu and down to the Bonin Islands form one big island arc which form the northeastern Japan. The arcs of southeastern Honshu and the Ryukyu Islands form the oldest part of southwestern Japan.

Japan has about one-tenth of the worlds active volcanoes and hundreds of inactive volcanoes. Mount Fuji is the highest mountain and most famous mountain in Japan. This mountain is still active as are Asama, Aso, Banai, Miharaand and Sakurajima. There are actually more then 40 active volcanoes out of a told of 180.

Mount Fuji

The shading in the above map shows where Japan's volcanic arcs lie.

Because of the potential dangers of volcanic eruption, the Japan Government monitors the activity of these volcanoes closely. Once a year, usually in January, they have volcano evacuation drills. They will actually practice using helicopters to fly people out of the villages. Scientists measure every change in the volcanoes' activity and record and study this information. They hope to be able to give enough advance notice so people can escape.

The Sakurajima Volcano is one volcano that I will be talking about. This volcano has erupted forty-two times in January, 1996, thirty-one times in February and sixty-nine times in March. Sixty-nine times is the fifth largest record out of all the months in 1996. All together the volcano erupted 200 times throughout that whole year! In the year 1995, it approximately erupted 3-4 million tons of material according to the Sakurajima Volcanological Observatory of Kyoto University. In January 1996 an eruption column rose three kilometers. It covered Kagoshima city causing heavy traffic. They are expecting a big eruption in the near future.

Sakurajima Volcano

Eruption of Sakurajima Volcano with lightning May 18,1991

The Komaga-take was another bad volcano. on the night of March 5, 1996, Usu Volcano Observatory recorded that there was a volcanic eruption. There were also some small quakes that happened. The morning of March 6, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported a five hundred foot high white plume rising above the from the center of the volcano.

Satellite image of Kamaga-take


Typhoons are known as one of the tropical cyclones that has a wind speed of more than 17.2 meters per second. There are about 29 typhoons in a year. Typhoons are one of the worst weather systems that bring a big amount of damage and loss to their human life.

One main purpose of the Typhoon Research Department is they can see a typhoon develop from the beginning.

Typhoon season comes at the end of September and the beginning of October in Japan. Typhoons bring heavy rains over wide areas which can cause floods and gale winds which damage houses and forest resources.

In the 1991 No.19 typhoon in Japan, there were damages in various spots in Japan. The forest were majorly damaged, especially by the salt winds. Three years after a typhoon has ruined plant life, the salt damaged trees seemed recovered, but the damage to leaves and trunks by the gale wind are not recovered and remain with injuries.

Damage to buildings and homes can be serious, depending on the gale force. An electronic newspaper reports: "On Sunday morning, September 17, one of the largest typhoons in fifty years hit the eastern section of the country. Bringing damages in it's trail. Stray winds and heavy rain swept through the Kanto Region, including the capital city of Tokyo. Air and ferry services along the coastal regions were disrupted. Bullet trains were forced to slow down, resulting in delays of approximately twenty minutes. Commuter trains were stopped, causing inconvenience to some 300,000 people passengers. According to the National Police Agency, three people were killed and six others were still missing. About forty people were injured in accidents relating to the typhoon. At nine a.m. on Sunday morning, winds up to 165 KPH were recorded on land. The typhoon was the biggest natural disaster since the recent Kansai earthquake to have hit modern Japan." *** L., Angelina. The Paper, Crocker's Fall Trimester Newspaper, October 4, 1995

Below is a satellite image of a typhoon in action over Japan.


I have learned a lot from the research that I have done. I have enjoyed learning about natural disasters in Japan. The thing that I liked researching about the most was the earthquakes. They were very interesting to learn about. There are lots of earthquakes in Japan which can cause lots of damage to the cities.

Also there are tsunamis which can be formed by earthquakes. Tsunamis can range from 10, 20, and even 30 meters in height. When tsunamis hit shore they can suck up buildings, bridges and people.

I have also talked about volcanoes, which were very interesting to write about. There are lots of volcanoes in Japan, some have erupted and some haven't. The highest and most famous volcano in Japan is Mt. Fuji. Looking at pictures of volcanoes I have seen that they are dangerous and wonderous things.

Typhoons are another natural disaster that can be very damaging to the cities in Japan. Typhoons hit normally in between the end of September and the beginning of October (which is called the typhoon season). When typhoons hit, heavy rain pours down and floods a large amount of area. Typhoons can sometimes drown people they are so heavy. The typhoon can flood as high as sky scrapers.

I have enjoyed writing about the natural disasters in Japan. It is clear that this country has a high number of natural disasters that are caused by different parts of nature. I have found out a lot about why they have so many disasters and it has been very interesting to read about. I have had a great time doing my report and I hope that I can have the chance to do a research project like this again. :)


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