Japan’s Earthquake History and Japan’s Geological Future

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Japan lies in the collision zone of at least four lithospheric plates: Eurasia/China Plate, North American Plate, Philippines Plate and Pacific Plate The constant movement of these plates generates energy that occasionally results in earthquakes and tsunamis of different magnitudes (Geologist Callan Bentley discusses in detail the geological position of the Japanese Islands).

Written records of strong earthquakes date back at least 1600 years. However, until 1860, Japanese naturalists were more interested in the effects of such an extraordinary event than in discovering the cause of earthquakes, and mythical explanations were common. In 1600, the Japanese nobleman Tokugawa Ieyasu chose the village of Edo (modern Tokyo) as his new residence and three years later it became the capital of unified Japan. The city grew rapidly and soon became one of the largest cities with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Unfortunately, its strategic location on Tokyo Bay is still an earthquake zone today.

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On December 31, 1703, Japan was shaken by a magnitude 8 earthquake, reconstructed on the Mercalli scale. In Edo, most wooden buildings collapsed. The earthquake and its after-effects, such as floods and fires, killed around 150,000 people. A wave of floods caused chaos in Sagami Bay and on the Boso Peninsula, killing around 6,500 people. One of the most important historical earthquakes struck Tokyo on November 11, 1855, killing between 16,000 and 20,000 people.

This event and its aftermath are described in hundreds of wooden sections, mainly in the form of namazu-e. On October 28, 1891, the agricultural area of Nobi experienced a magnitude 8 earthquake. Modern buildings and traditional houses were damaged or collapsed, thousands were left homeless and 7,000 people died.

What happens if earthquakes and volcanic eruptions continue in Japan? 

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Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands and its geography is mountainous and volcanic. Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan, is also its largest volcano. Mount Fuji is still considered an active volcano, although it has not erupted in the last 300 years. 

It is not possible to make a precise prediction about the future geological structure of Japan. However, due to the volcanic nature of Japan, it is thought that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions may continue in the future. This may affect the geological structure of Japan. For example, volcanic eruptions could change the shape and height of Japan’s volcanic mountains. Earthquakes could cause Japan’s landmass to shift. However, it is not known for sure how long these changes will last and how large they will be.


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