Observations of the Sanriku Tsunami off the Iwate Prefecture Coast


The Sanriku Coast, facing the Pacific Ocean in the northern part of the Tohoku region of Japan, has suffered tsunami damage each time there has been a major earthquake (the Sanriku earthquake on March 2, 1933; the Valdivia, Chile, earthquake on May 22, 1960 [the tsunami reached Japan on May 23‒24]; the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011; and others). Sanriku daikaishō iwateken engan kenbunshi ippan (Observations of the Sanriku tsunami off the Iwate Prefecture coast) is a report of the earthquake and tsunami damage caused by the Meiji Sanriku Earthquake that occurred on June 15, 1896, off the coast of Iwate Prefecture (the center of the Sanriku Coast). The author, Yamana Sōshin (1847‒1909), was a leading figure in Tōno-machi in Iwate Prefecture. As a result of his own proposals to Iwate Prefecture after the earthquake, he was delegated to study the damage in 191 settlements along the prefecture's Pacific Coast between July and September. Yamana wrote several reports based on his research, of which the document shown here is one. It describes the damage in Iwate Prefecture as a whole as well as in four counties and 37 towns and villages on the Pacific Coast. It contains maps of the damaged areas and statistical information, such as the number of houses, boats, and size of population before the earthquake; the number of fatalities, injuries, and damaged and washed-away houses, boats, and pieces of fishing gear; the height of the tsunami; and breakdowns by locality. The maps indicate the sea and rivers in blue, fields and hilly areas that escaped flooding in red and green, flooded areas in yellow, houses and streets in red, and the direction of the tsunami with arrows. The report shows, for example, that 18,158 people died in Iwate Prefecture; that in the town of Tarō 1,867 people died out of a total population of 2,248 (Tarō also was damaged in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake), and that most of the residential areas were flooded. Because it provides detailed information on historical damage, this document is valued by researchers of the history of natural disasters.

Last updated: December 12, 2017