Japan’s spectacular economic success story over the second half of the 20th century is the more remarkable when you consider the shaky foundations on which it has been constructed – quite literally, since the country is one of the most geologically unstable parts of the entire planet. Japan comprises more than 4,000 islands, though the vast majority of the population lives on the four largest. The islands are actually a row of peaks in an underwater mountain range which includes hundreds of volcanoes – most notably iconic Mount Fuji, one of some 40 which are active. The explanation for all this activity is that Japan lies on a fault line between two of the earth’s major tectonic plates.
It should not come as a surprise, then, that roughly one fifth of the world’s earthquakes occur here. Even so, it is not easy for those of us who take living on terra firma for granted to comprehend that on an average day in Japan some half-dozen tremors are recorded somewhere in the Japanese archipelago. Few parts of the country have been spared over the centuries, but it is incidents affecting the most heavily populated areas that have attracted the greatest attention.
The capital, Tokyo, has had its fair share of earthquakes and as recently as May 2008 it suffered one which registered 6.7 on the Richter scale. At the start of the 18th century Edo (as Tokyo was then known) was the world’s largest city, with a population of one million; on the last day of 1703, however, it was devastated by a massive earthquake. Most of the casualties were caused by the resulting fires which swept through the mainly wooden buildings, and by a tsunami which smashed into a wide coastal area around Sagami Bay and the Boso Peninsula.
When did the Genroku earthquake happen: December 31 1703
Where did the Genroku earthquake happen: Edo (Tokyo), Japan
What was Genroku’s earthquake death toll: it may have been as high as 200,000.
You should know: The earthquake occurred during the historical Genroku Era and the name is used to distinguish it from subsequent major quakes which struck the city in 1855 and 1923.