In the hamlet of Aneyoshi, Iwate Prefecture, in northern Japan a centuries old tablet warns of the danger of tsunamis. The tablets form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts run along major fault lines and is often the target of repeated earthquakes and tsunamis. The coastline is dotted with hundreds of such markers, some more than 600 years old. Japan has been hit by numerous earthquakes recently. The big 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit almost a month ago (March 11) and has killed some 20,000 people and has sparked an on ongoing crisis at a nuclear power plant. Thursday at 11:30pm another large aftershock hit the same area. The 7.4 magnitude aftershock caused the Japan meteorological agency to issue a tsunami warning for a wave of up to 6 feet but it was lifted 90 minutes later. Officials say Thursday’s aftershock hit 30 miles under the water and off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture. Buildings as far away as Tokyo shook for about a minute.
“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the stone slab reads. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.” It was advice the dozen or so households of Aneyoshi heeded, and their homes emerged unscathed from a disaster that flattened low-lying communities elsewhere and killed thousands along Japan’s northeastern shore. One stone marker warned of the danger in the coastal city of Kesennuma: “Always be prepared for unexpected tsunamis. Choose life over your possessions and valuables.”
Farther south, the tsunami washed away a seven-foot tall stone tablet that stood next to a playground in the middle of Natori city. Its message was carved in giant Japanese characters: “If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis.” Hiroshi Kosai grew up in Natori but moved away after high school. His parents, who remained in the family home, died in the disaster. “I always told my parents it was dangerous here,” said the 43-year-old Kosai, as he pointed out the broken foundation where the tablet once stood. “In five years, you’ll see houses begin to sprout up here again.”