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Earthquake Nation

Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868-1930

Gregory Clancey
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 346
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn8vc
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  • Book Info
    Earthquake Nation
    Book Description:

    Accelerating seismic activity in late Meiji Japan climaxed in the legendary Great Nobi Earthquake of 1891, which rocked the main island from Tokyo to Osaka, killing thousands. Ironically, the earthquake brought down many “modern” structures built on the advice of foreign architects and engineers, while leaving certain traditional, wooden ones standing. This book, the first English-language history of modern Japanese earthquakes and earthquake science, considers the cultural and political ramifications of this and other catastrophic events on Japan’s relationship with the West, with modern science, and with itself. Gregory Clancey argues that seismicity was both the Achilles’ heel of Japan's nation-building project—revealing the state’s western-style infrastructure to be surprisingly fragile—and a new focus for nativizing discourses which credited traditional Japanese architecture with unique abilities to ride out seismic waves. Tracing his subject from the Meiji Restoration to the Great Kant Earthquake of 1923 (which destroyed Tokyo), Clancey shows earthquakes to have been a continual though mercurial agent in Japan’s self-fashioning; a catastrophic undercurrent to Japanese modernity. This innovative and absorbing study not only moves earthquakes nearer the center of modern Japan change—both materially and symbolically—but shows how fundamentally Japan shaped the global art, science, and culture of natural disaster.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93229-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The story of the Great Nōbi Earthquake has a long history of narration in Japanese, particularly by architects and their historians.¹ It has not, as far as I know, ever been told in English.² Allowing for variations, the rudiments of the story go something like this: beginning in the 1870s, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, foreign teachers were brought to Japan to train the first generation of architects and engineers. The foreign (mostly British) architects taught Japanese to build in brick and stone, and the engineers demonstrated how to string telegraph wires, lay railroads, and span rivers with iron truss...

  6. ONE Strong Nation, Stone Nation
    (pp. 11-38)

    The emergence in Meiji Japan (1868–1912) of a coterie of new, westernizing identities among the former samurai class remains strangely under-problematized. Despite much biographical information about the first Japanese to call themselves scientists, engineers, architects, attorneys, and so forth, few scholars, either Japanese or foreign, have asked what it meant to thus name oneself: to occupy, develop, and alter roles originally written for a distant stage.¹ Some Western professional roles conveniently overlapped with existing Japanese ones; for example, there had always been Japanese doctors, who commanded roughly the same respect as their Western counterparts. Architecture offers the opposite example....

  7. TWO Earthquakes
    (pp. 39-62)

    From nearly its beginnings, the Japanese architectural profession was destined for a long and complex relationship with earthquakes. That Japan was an earthquake-prone nation does not sufficiently explain how and why that relationship became as strong and all-encompassing as it did. Before the Meiji Restoration, earthquakes had not been an obsession within any particular department of Japanese thought. In each generation of architects from the early Meiji to Taishō periods, however, few would stand fully outside of the project of an earthquake-proof Japan. The historic relevance oftaishin(against earthquakes) both within the Japanese architectural establishment and outside it would...

  8. THREE The Seismologists
    (pp. 63-90)

    Kōbudaigakkō’s faculty, although small in number and similar in age (mid-twenties) and nationality (British), did not constitute a solid phalanx of foreign knowledge, practice, and opinion. Its members had migrated to Japan from myriad disciplinary cultures and had diverse institutional affiliations, work methods, interests, and ambitions. Despite their inclination to form a small society among themselves, mediated by common objects, their various constructions of “Japan” did not invariably mesh. In the 1880s, the issue of seismic resistance became one of the more striking and controversial disjunctions inyatoiperceptions. At the center of the rupture was the new Anglo-Japanese science...

  9. FOUR The National Essence
    (pp. 91-112)

    So far we have been tracing a debate within a relatively closed circle of foreign academics attempting to make sense of a place that was not their home. Japanese—students, young professors, and bureaucrats—occasionally contributed to this foreign-directed discourse, but without critically altering its dynamic. Amid massive social and political changes from the late 1860s to the mid-1880s, a period of relative seismic quietude in Japan, Japanese journals and newspapers were far more interested in domestic politics, foreign policy, and new habits of dress, diet, and religion than in intractable forces of nature. The Meiji government patronized architecture primarily...

  10. FIVE A Great Earthquake
    (pp. 113-150)

    On the morning of October 28, 1891, an unusually powerful earthquake centered in the Nōbi Plain near Nagoya rocked central Japan from Osaka to Tokyo. Shock waves were felt over virtually the entire nation, from Tohoku (northern Honshu) to Kyushu in the far south. Contemporary seismologists, estimating on the basis of the yet-to-be-invented Richter scale, place the earthquake ’s magnitude as 8.4, making it the strongest seismic event in modern Japanese history. The Great Kantō (or Tokyo) Earthquake of 1923, by comparison, measured 7.9. Approximately 7,300 people were killed in four prefectures, tens of thousands injured, and over a hundred...

  11. SIX Japan as Earthquake Nation
    (pp. 151-179)

    In the immediate aftermath of the Nōbi earthquake, seismology commanded state patronage as a science of aftershock, the successor to Confucian scholarship in the same role. Yet given the newly revealed fragility of imported infrastructure, its potential value was even greater in the long term as a science of foreshocks, a machine for prediction, which both its practitioners and patrons in 1891 indeed believed it would become. This goal eludes seismology still, and seismologists have consistently suffered, institutionally and sometimes personally, for their failure to live up to the model of scientific prediction set by astronomers or even meteorologists. As...

  12. SEVEN Japanese Architecture after Nōbi
    (pp. 180-211)

    The collapse of masonry buildings in Nagoya and Osaka in 1891 was, despite Conder’s cogent explanations, a crisis for the Japanese architectural profession. Althoughʐōkagaku-shihad designed relatively few of the failed buildings, they were inescapably identified with the new technology. The Association of Japanese Architects held no less than fifteen meetings on Nōbi in an effort to reach agreement on what it meant, and what to do. Most of the practicing Japanese architects and at least fiftyʐōkagakustudents were dispatched to the ruins to observe and draw details.¹ One of Tatsuno’s students, Itō Chūta, helped compile the official...

  13. EIGHT The Great Kantō Earthquake and the Submergence of the Earthquake Nation
    (pp. 212-234)

    Although seismology had forced Japanese architecture into a more complex relationship with the Earth following the Nōbi earthquake, Japanese architects long retained other interests. Buildings were designed to serve purposes, be aesthetically satisfying, express the power and status of patrons, define a new Japanese design tradition, demonstrate mastery of a European design tradition, and so forth. In their hearts, resisting earthquakes was not what the first generation of Japanese architects, such as Tatsuno Kingo, or the first generation of their students, such as Itō Chūta, most wanted to do. They wanted to share the identity “architect” with Europeans, while developing...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 235-298)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 299-318)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 319-331)