Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B
Online ISSN : 1349-2896
Print ISSN : 0386-2208
ISSN-L : 0386-2208
A short history of tsunami research and countermeasures in Japan
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2009 Volume 85 Issue 8 Pages 267-275


The tsunami science and engineering began in Japan, the country the most frequently hit by local and distant tsunamis. The gate to the tsunami science was opened in 1896 by a giant local tsunami of the highest run-up height of 38 m that claimed 22,000 lives. The crucial key was a tide record to conclude that this tsunami was generated by a “tsunami earthquake”. In 1933, the same area was hit again by another giant tsunami. A total system of tsunami disaster mitigation including 10 “hard” and “soft” countermeasures was proposed. Relocation of dwelling houses to high ground was the major countermeasures. The tsunami forecasting began in 1941. In 1960, the Chilean Tsunami damaged the whole Japanese Pacific coast. The height of this tsunami was 5–6 m at most. The countermeasures were the construction of structures including the tsunami breakwater which was the first one in the world. Since the late 1970s, tsunami numerical simulation was developed in Japan and refined to become the UNESCO standard scheme that was transformed to 22 different countries. In 1983, photos and videos of a tsunami in the Japan Sea revealed many faces of tsunami such as soliton fission and edge bores. The 1993 tsunami devastated a town protected by seawalls 4.5 m high. This experience introduced again the idea of comprehensive countermeasures, consisted of defense structure, tsunami-resistant town development and evacuation based on warning.

(Communicated by Kiyoshi HORIKAWA, M.J.A.)

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