No nation escapes unscathed from an earthquake of the magnitude that struck Japan yesterday. At least 1,000 people have died. For all that damage, it is remarkable how well this island nation of more than 126 million people has withstood the fifth largest earthquake since 1900. Registering a stunning 8.9, the earthquake near Sendai produced a 30-foot high tsunami that hurtled toward some 53 countries.
Despite these powerful forces, one cannot help but note how relatively well prepared the Japanese were to survive such an assault from mother Earth. Japan stands, literally, as a testament to how human planning and industrialized society can cope with natural disasters.
A country that experiences hundreds of subterranean vibrations annually, Japan has been earthquake-proofing its buildings since an 8.4 earthquake in 1891. Until 1965, Japan limited the height of buildings to a little over 100 feet, but with the pressure of urban populations, the height limit was lifted. Japan’s wood residential houses were vulnerable to a tsunami on the coast, but its tall buildings seem to have held up well against the quake.
In 1993, the Yokohama Landmark Tower was completed at 971 feet tall, a remarkable height in a country prone to serious earthquakes. It was only possible to erect such a building if one had the skills and wealth to access the most sophisticated techniques of modeling and engineering.
In late 2007, the Japanese completed the world’s most sophisticated early warning system for earthquakes, which was credited Friday with signaling Tokyo’s residents–via TV, radio and cellphone–that a quake was coming. The warning system gives industrial, energy and transportation facilities time to shut down before a quake hits. The biggest concern as we went to press was the ability to cool the reactor cores at nuclear power plants that were shut down automatically as the earthquake hit. The U.S. is sending some coolant materials.
Japan now faces significant rebuilding, but less than could have been expected after enduring its strongest tremblor in 300 years. We’d now expect that similar warning systems would be developed and installed in the rest of the world’s quake-prone nations.
Contrast this preparation with poor Haiti or the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, which killed some 70,000 people. Haiti has the excuse of abject poverty caused by decades of misrule. China has wealth but a government answerable only to itself. Sometimes the hard phrase, invidious comparison, is apt. After its disastrous Kobe earthquake in 1995, Japan instituted a multitude of reforms.
Japan itself has experienced some bad press of late. Its economic growth is stagnant, and its inept political class has become an embarrassment to its great population of productive citizens. But make no mistake. Japan remains a great industrial power. Despite the destructive effects of yesterday’s quake, the self-protective benefits of Japan’s achievement as a modern nation was hard not to notice.
supports my theory that the japanese work hard to sustain themselves…through good times…and bad…hugmamma.