Outline of Exhibition

Documenting Disaster: Natural Disasters in Japanese History, 1703-2003
Period of exhibition Tuesday, July 8 to Sunday, September 21, 2003
Admission fee Including in General Admission Fee
Hours 9:30 - 17:00 (Entrance closes at 16:30)
Closed 7/14.22.28, 8/, 9/1.8.16
Exhibition site Rooms 1-3, Entrance Hall, National Museum of Japanese History
Sponsor National Museum of Japanese History

The project for this exhibition started in the summer of 2000 when our application was accepted by the National Museum of Japanese History. In 2001, the members of this project carried out various interdisciplinary researches on historical natural disasters in Japan. Then, in 2002, we discussed the kind of natural disasters to focus on in the exhibition and how they could be presented. The findings of the research and discussion among the members are all presented here in this exhibition catalogue. The following disasters are represented through various media including disaster maps, historical documents, paintings, and computer graphics.

Special Exhibition: Entrance Hall


Namazu-e printing
Namazu-e printing
(After the Ansei Edo Earthquake(1855))

Located at the subduction zone of oceanic plates, Japan frequently experiences earthquakes, volcanic eruptions , and tsunamis, the earliest recorded disaster being that of the 684 Hakuho Quake. The number of tsunamis in Japan totals 195 over a 1,313 year period, averaging one event every 6.7 years, the highest rate of occurrence in the world. This figure is small by comparison with floods and earthquakes, however, a fact that accounts for the low level of tsunami awareness among Japanese. Fortunately, Japan's historical record, combined with scientific insights and technological advances such as computer simulation, provides a rich body of information and perspectives on their hazards.
The exhibition, comprising four sections, emphasizes the collaboration between history, social studies, the natural sciences, and technology in its presentation of a history of tsunamis in Japan.

Special Exhibition: Gallery 1


The memorial ceremony of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake (1995)
The memorial ceremony of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake (1995)

Earthquakes have been recorded in Japanese historical documents for over 1,300 years. In addition to the official chronicles written by officers of the imperial court in the ancient capitals of Nara and Kyoto, diaries of noblemen and priests make frequent mention of past earthquakes and tsunamis.
For the current exhibition, we selected five historical earthquakes to present.The Zenkoji Quake and the 1858 Hietsu Quake represent typical inland earthquakes.The exhibition also presents detailed distributions of seismic intensity in the Edo-Tokyo area for the 1703 Genroku Quake, the 1855 Ansei-Edo Quake, and the 1923 Great Kanto Quake.

Special Exhibition: Gallery 2

Volcanic Eruptions

Mt. Fugen
Mt. Fugen

There are many volcanoes in the Japanese archipelago. Of the roughly 1,500 active volcanoes in the world, 108 are in Japan. This exhibition seeks to illustrate important features of volcanic disasters by focusing on the representative cases of Mounts Fuji, Unzen, and Asama.
Mt. Fuji is the largest volcano in Japan. During a very large eruption that occurred about 300 years ago (1707), abundant ash and scoria were ejected over an area reaching as far as Edo. Mt. Unzen in Kyushu is another active volcano. It had been queit for 192 years before it erupted again in 1990. Mt. Asama is yet another example of very active and dangerous volcanoes. Its eruption in 1783 caused enormous disaster.
As this exhibition aims to show the more people are aware of the nature of volcanic eruptions, the less they will suffer from them. Volcanic landscapes and hot springs are a pleasure to enjoy, but we must also have wisdom to foretell dangers and to mitigate against their damage as much as possible.

Special Exhibition: Gallery 3

Recovering from Disaster

Relief to natural disaster victims is a recurring subject of administrative records throughout Japanese history. But such records do not often provide detailed descriptions of recovery from the perspective of ordinary people. This exhibition seeks to demonstrate the ways that ordinary people have recovered from natural disaster. It focuses on three major disasters from the Edo period-the Kisakata Quake of 1804, the Zenkoji Quake of 1847, and the Ansei-Edo Quake of 1855-and the recent Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake.
One of the characteristic points of our project on historical natural disasters is that it is a large-scale joint-research project between scientists and historians. However, this is not just a collaborative research project within a closed group of people in academia. Our findings and discussions are open to the public through this exhibition. We are grateful to any suggestions and helpful comments on any part of the exhibiton.

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