Seas of Fire - Earthquakes, Disasters and Japan in the 20th Century

Seas of Fire—Earthquakes, Disasters, and Japan in the Twentieth Century

Kerry Smith

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Tokyo teikoku daigaku risaisha jōjōkyoku (Tokyo Imperial University Relief Information Bureau), "Teitō dashinkasai keitō chizu (Map of the Fire of Tokyo)", 1923.

Tokyo teikoku daigaku risaisha jōjōkyoku (Tokyo Imperial University Relief Information Bureau), "Teitō dashinkasai keitō chizu (Map of the Fire of Tokyo)," 1923.

My project focuses on Japanese scientists' efforts to translate their uncertain knowledge of the risks and hazards that earthquakes posed to the nation into persuasive narratives and effective policies from the early twentieth century to the near present. It begins with one seismologist's warnings to Tokyo's residents decades ahead of the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake, and follows a series of earth scientists into the postwar era as they struggled to direct Japan's choices about the built environment and even the structures of everyday life down safer paths. "Seas of Fire"—the project's working title—is a phrase that appears again and again when scientists wrote about the nation's next major earthquake, and describes what they fully expected would replace cities like Tokyo in the aftermath of such an event. My work as a Visiting Fellow will focus on the emergence of a new lexicon of risk within the discourses surrounding earthquake prediction and forecasting, a category of analysis which includes the arguments, images, and theoretical frameworks scientists used to try to convince policy makers and the public to fear the future.