Meanwhile, on the Ring of Fire…

Quakes are so common in Japan that I no longer notice the small ones, just like my host family when I woke them in panic at my first, well before dawn on a winter morning in 1987.

Monday’s was a long, weak, lateral shaking. As usual my eye was drawn to shelves: checking breakables wouldn’t fall should the temblor strengthen. I never imagined its epicentre was the Sea of Japan coast, a whole 300km away on the idyllic Noto Peninsula.

New Year’s Day in Japan is like Christmas Day in Ireland. Many gathered around dining tables in Wajima’s tidy wooden houses will have come home from Tokyo, Osaka and further afield. Perhaps they were complementing the traditional osechi cuisine specific to New Year’s with an auspicious three festive sips of otoso sake when their world turned upside down.

We were in the London area when the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake struck, scheduled to return to northeast Kanto – less than 200km from Fukushima Daiichi’s melted reactors – that May.

In-country, apart from the surreality of digging a deep hole in the garden to bury irradiated topsoil from hotspots around our downpipes, what struck me was how roofs right around the region went unrepaired for months and months (very unJapanese behaviour) for want of tilers.

Our younger geology gives us many amazing, high mountains. Dormant volcanoes provide abundant opportunities for post-trail hot spring baths, with the caveat that eruptions, such as Mt. Ontake in 2014 which killed dozens of hikers, do occur.

On everyone’s mind in Tokyo will be the fact that we’re long overdue the Big One. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 killed over 100,000 Tokyoites, though mostly in fires. There’s an outside chance that Fuji might pop, too, if the typhoons and hornets don’t get us first.


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