Field of Science

The Geisha and the Tsunami

More than a month has passed since the earthquake and the Tsunami that devastated the coast of north-eastern Honshu.
After the first shock people begin to ask if the extent of destruction and number of victims (more than 14.000 confirmed dead and 12.000 people missing) could be predicted. There are various hinds that can help to produce a risk
map - there is geological evidence like fossil Tsunami deposits, there are in prehistoric time maybe myths and legends surviving in oral traditions, there are in historic time written stories in chronicles, scientific observations and measurements in charts, there are monuments, but there are also the eyewitnesses' reports of survivors.

In various newspapers and online media the accounts of many survivors of the last Tohoku tsunami were reported, the story of the geisha Tsuyako Ito is remarkable because it provides us with a scale how often Japan was hit by such disasters - even in the span of a single human life.
With her 84 years she experienced three tsunamis who hit the city of Kamaishi and as a girl she had listened to her grandmother's tales of the great 1896 tsunami.

"My grandmother said that a tsunami is like a wide-open mouth that swallows everything in its path, so that victory comes to those who run away as fast as possible."

The German newspaper "stern" published this old photography of a performance by Tsuyako Ito, she lost everything in the devastating Tsunami except her memories - and she promised not to surrender.

Her mother carried her on her back to safety at the time of Ito's first tsunami in 1933. This time, her fourth and "most frightening" tsunami, she was saved by an admirer who carried Ito on his back to higher ground.

The warnings of such experiences unfortunately last only a short time, according to the Japanese Yotaru Hatamura who studied ancient traditions about Tsunamis in Japan:

"It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades," he said.

After the earthquake that devastated Tokyo in 1923 and San Francisco in 1906 the opportunity to rebuild the cities following antiseismic principles was abandoned to provide a fast reconstruction.

We shouldn´t ignore or forget...

Online Resources:

ONISHI, N. (08.04.2011): Geisha survives with help from an admirer - Guardian of a local culture has lived through four tsunamis. (Accessed on 25.04.2011)

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