World Facts

Did You Know A Stone In Japan Warns Locals Where Not To Build Their Homes?

A centuries-old inscription upon a stone tablet in Aneyoshi tells locals to build on high ground so that tsunamis do not wash away their homes.

"Do not build any homes below this point.”

“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.” That message is what is written in a centuries-old inscription upon a stone tablet in Aneyoshi on the Japanese island of Honshu. The tablet says for locals to build on high ground, so that tsunamis do not wash away their homes. These stones, inscribed with their cryptic messages, were put in place by ancient Japanese villagers who experienced tsunamis or colossal waves as a result of earthquakes themselves. They wanted the succeeding generations to heed their warnings so that they might escape death and destruction. The oldest tsunami stone slabs to be discovered date back 600 years ago, and are as tall as 10 feet in height. Hundreds of these tsunami stones dot the coastline of the country, yet many chose to ignore them, resulting in great losses of human lives and massive property destruction as well.

Gifts From The Past

There are many of those who have chosen to heed the warnings of the stones and lived to tell the story as a result. In Aneyoshi, a small village of 11 families, a tsunami last visited on March 11th, 2011, yet all of its residents were out of the event's reach as they had built their houses high above the stone line. The tsunami was the result of a 9.0-magnitude earthquake that killed around 29,000 people. The oldest stones can be traced back to more than six centuries ago, though more were erected after the 1896 earthquake that brought a tsunami killing more than 22,000 people. Some stones carry advice regarding where to move or settle down so the tsunami waves can not reach them. The places inscribed on some of the stones are Nokoriya and Namiwake. During an earthquake in 1911, the tsunami stopped short of these places which, are located around three miles from the coastline of Japan.

Will We Ever Learn?

The stone warnings have often been easily forgotten and ignored, as economic needs and prosperity advanced after the economic boom in Japan following World War II. Many of the families that had built their houses on higher ground had slowly moved back down closer to the seashore to be a shorter distance away from their places of work. New coastal towns and cities were continually being built as industries proliferated. Another modern convenience that caused trouble were the supposed "tsunami walls". They were meant to protect these towns, but ultimately were invariably ineffective. The Aneyoshi story has not always been a tale of survival, as even the March 2011 event left a mother and her three young children dead, as they swept away by the tsunami as she drove back to Aneyoshi on the day of the earthquake. A fisherman named Mr. Kimura retells a story about his village after only two villagers survived the 1896 tsunami. He said the survivors and their descendants moved higher up the mountainside, but, in later years, moved back down to the shoreline, which proved catastrophic once again during the 1933 tsunami, with that event leaving only four survivors. After this time, the village was moved uphill permanently.

Words To Be Reckoned With

Japan is situated in one of the most seismically active areas in Asia and the world. Undersea earthquakes almost always produces tsunamis, and these can reach points of land far from these tremors' origins. Much more so, however, they threaten the coastlines and inner regions of the seismic epicenters. Tsunamis are caused by the movement of tectonic plates underwater, resulting in enormous amounts of seawater moving at great speeds that gather momentum as they draw closer to land. This action allows the waves to reach inland and also reach higher and higher heights. The Council on Earthquake Disaster Prevention has published a guide for preparation and policies for tsunami disasters. These involve series of measures and countermeasures against such natural disasters. Although the Japanese government acknowledges that it has no single answer to the tsunami problem, it can surely learn lessons from the past tsunamis that occurred in 1896, 1933, 1960, 1993, and 2011, hard lessons to learn though they may be.

More in World Facts