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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Similarities Between Japan's 1854 And 2011 Earthquakes

Here's a news item hot off the press of 1855 - April 21, 1855, to be exact, from the Daily National Intelligencer of Washington, DC - plucked from the archives of Newsbank, the best source ever for scholars, would-be scholars and even dumb bloggers looking for a resource center of early American newspapers.

The image above is an 1855 ukiyo-e depicting the epic event referred to in the article. I have no idea who the artist is, or when it was actually painted.

For your edification, where it discusses "Ohosaca", "Japau", "Jeddo" and Niphon, the article actually refers to Osaka, Japan (I'm sure it was a typo) and Edo, now known as Tokyo, as well as Niphon, also known as Nippon, Nihon or Japan. Also, keep in mind that one fathom = six feet (1.83 meters). Lastly, the Yan-taze-kiang is an alternate spelling for the Yank

This particular news item discusses the an 1854 earthquake. Let me know if any of you who experienced or saw footage of the March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake find any similarities. I know I did.

Terrible Earthquake In Japan.

The "North China Herald," received by the late arrival from Europe, furnishes the following extracts of a letter from an officer of the U.S. steamer Powhatan, announcing the exchange, on the 21st of February, of the ratifications of the Treaty between the United States and Japan, and the visitation of Japan, on the 23rd December last, with a violent earthquake, whereby the city of Ohosaca, the largest city of Japau, and the town of Simoda were destroyed and Jeddo much injured. The loss of the Russian frigate Diana, after the earthquake, is also narrated:
"Powhatan, March 2, 1855,
"Off the mouth of the Yan-taze-kiang.
 "We sailed from Simoda a week ago last Thursday, expecting a run of about five days to Shanghai; but we had scarcely got out of harbor before we encountered a hay gale of wind, which required a large expenditure of coal to enable us to breast it, without making any headway, but, on the contrary, rather losing ground.
This had scarcely subsided when we had another gale more severe than the first, which lasted much longer, and after that subsided we had still another directly in our teeth, which seemed to combine in itself the severity of both the previous ones. I never before have experienced anything to compare it with at sea.
Being short of coal, the ship could not be placed in the most favorable position for weathering the gales, as the captain thought it necessary that he might make his fuel last to get the ship into port when the gale abated.
By the greets good luck we have managed to avoid the necessity of taking off our paddles and beating up under sail.
"The exchange of the ratifications of the treaty between the United States and Japan was made on the 21st day of February and we sailed on the 22d.
"The island of Niphon, in which Simoda is situated, was visited on the 23d December by a severe earthquake, which was most disastrous in its effects. The city of Ohosaca, one of the largest in the empire, was completely laid waste. Jeddo itself suffered considerably, but has since suffered more seriously from the extensive conflagration. The town of Simoda, on our arrival, presented a complete scene of desolation and ruin. After the shock of the earthquake, the sea commenced bubbling up as it were along the shore, and then receded with great rapidity, and as soon returned with such increased volume as to flood the whole town to the depth of sic or seven feet, sweeping away houses, bridges, and temples, and piling them up in a mass of ruin. Five times during the day did the sea advance and recede in this manner, spreading desolation far and wide. The largest junks in the harbor were driven from one to two miles above high-water mark, where we saw them lying high and dry. About two hundred of the poor inhabitants lost their lives by the overflow, the remainder saving themselves by fleeing to the mountains with which the town is surrounded.
"The Russian frigate Diana, having Vice-Admiral Pontiatine on board, was lying in the harbor at the time, engaged in finishing up the treaty they had made with the Japanese.
Immediately after the shock was felt the waters in the harbor became convulsed to such a degree, in eddies and whirlpools, that in the space of thirty minutes she swung entirely round forty-three times twisting her chains up into knots; so rapid was the motion that the people on board could not keep their feet and all were made giddy.
When the seas receded it left the frigate in eight feet of water on her side, when her usual draft was over twenty one feet.
On its return, it is stated, the water rose five fathoms above its ordinary level.
On its again receding four feet only of water remanded, so that they saw the stocks of their anchor above the water.
The heaving of the bottom of the bay was then so violent that the frigate—although, as I said, in only four feet of water—was moved bodily past her anchor.
The officers momentarily expected that the bay would become the outlet of the subterranean fires, and that they would be engulfed in it.
When the frigate again floated they saw her keel and rudder, which had been wrenched off, floating alongside, and the ship filling with water.
By getting sails under her they managed to keep her afloat, and the next day, things having got quiet once more, they hauled her off into deeper water.
Occasional shocks of earthquake still continued to be felt, but none were attended with serious consequences.
After repairing damages as well as they could, and having rigged a temporary rudder, and the weather becoming fine, they attempted to take the ship round to another bay, where she would be less exposed, and they could complete repairs, (Simoda being badly adapted for such a purpose;) but when within seven miles of their harbor a gale sprung up, the hundred Japanese boats that were towing them abandoned them, (not, however till they had got out all the officers and crew,) and shortly after the gallant ship sunk in deep water, the officers and men saving only the clothes they stood in.
Nothwithstanding all their misfortunes and the dangers through which they had passed, they only lost one man, and he was accidentally killed by being jammed by one of the guns which had gone adrift."


Whew! What a brilliant piece of writing by that letter writer, obviously a crewmember of the USS Powhatan.

I could FEEL the earth moving, the waters receding, the frigate spinning from his description!

And THAT is why libraries are so important. They hold glimpses into the past (just like you staring up at the sky) that can provide important reference for anyone creating a modern day article of merely seeking to improve their personal knowledge base.

The December 23, 1854 earthquake is known as 安政東海地震 (the Ansei Tōkai Jishin) and is, according to a French-language Wikipedia page (HERE) an 8.4 Magnitude shaker.

In fact, on December 24, nearby, another 8.4 M earthquake hit - this one designated 安政南海地震, (Ansei Nankai Jishin).

When I read about the earthquake, I immediately wondered if the Japanese thought that the kami (gods) were upset at Japan having agreed to formalized treaties with both the U.S. and Russia, and that the earthquakes, via those earthquake-causing giant catfish (the Namazu) were at work to show the spirit of Japan's displeasure.

Turns out, yes, some Japanese at that time did talk about such things... mostly those who enjoyed the non-gaijin way of life before...

Andrew Joseph

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