Tokyo Prepares for Another Major Earthquake on the 100th Anniversary of a Devastating Quake

Seismologists Warn of 70% Likelihood of Major Earthquake Hitting Tokyo in Next 30 Years

Seismologists are sounding an alarm, stating that there is a 70% probability of a catastrophic earthquake striking the Tokyo metropolitan area within the coming three decades. Such an event could result in the loss of up to 23,000 lives and cause direct economic damages amounting to ¥47 trillion (£254 billion).

Beyond the immediate impact, extensive disruption to manufacturing and services due to damaged transport networks and power outages could inflict an additional ¥48 trillion in losses. This may also lead to price increases and a devalued yen, warns Japan's Cabinet Office. Furthermore, an estimate by the Tokyo metropolitan government from last year suggests that approximately 4.53 million people might find themselves unable to return to their homes in the aftermath of such a quake.

Today's Tokyo bears little resemblance to the city that was devastated by a 7.9-magnitude offshore earthquake a century ago. The remnants of that destruction are preserved in a memorial museum in eastern Tokyo, with displays including piles of nails twisted into grotesque shapes by the heat of fires, charred printing machines, twisted bicycles, and black-and-white photographs of bewildered residents searching for a way out of the chaos.

The tragic events of 1923 were not limited to the collapsed and burning buildings. Mobs armed with swords and iron bars, reportedly encouraged by police, targeted and killed a significant number of Korean residents based on unfounded rumors that they were exploiting the chaos to steal and poison wells.

The 1923 catastrophe provided critical lessons for a nation situated in the seismically active "ring of fire" along the Pacific, responsible for a fifth of the world's most powerful earthquakes. According to Yoshiaki Nakano, an earthquake engineering expert from the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience, it marked "the dawn of seismic design of structures in Japan." Within a year, new building codes were introduced to make structures more earthquake-resistant. These codes have since evolved to incorporate technological advancements following other devastating earthquakes in Japan, including the 2011 triple disaster that claimed over 18,000 lives and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, which killed 6,000 people.

While many countries are occasionally reminded of their building vulnerabilities, Japan has implemented some of the strictest safety regulations globally. This was notably demonstrated in the 2011 earthquake when skyscrapers swayed but remained standing during a 9-magnitude quake.

The constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis has become ingrained in the Japanese mindset. From schoolchildren who instinctively seek shelter beneath their desks and don protective zukin hoods to Tokyo authorities stockpiling millions of instant meals, preparedness is paramount. Most Japanese have experienced the jolt of a smartphone alert warning of an imminent quake, offering them precious seconds to seek cover.

On a yearly basis, Japan observes National Disaster Prevention Day, introduced in 1960 to commemorate the 1923 quake. On this day, self-defense force personnel, emergency service members, politicians, and public officials participate in simulations to remind them of Japan's vulnerability and how to survive and respond to worst-case scenarios.

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