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Awesome Find: Ancient Tsunami Warnings Carved in Stones in Japan

Ian Smith

ANEYOSHI, Japan -The stone tablet has stood on this forested hillside since before they were born, but the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face: “Do not build your homes below this point!”

Residents say this injunction from their ancestors kept their tiny village of 11 households safely out of reach of the deadly tsunami last month that wiped out hundreds of miles of Japanese coast and rose to record heights near here. The waves stopped just 300 feet below the stone.

“They knew the horrors of tsunamis, so they erected that stone to warn us,” said Tamishige Kimura, 64, the village leader of Aneyoshi.

Hundreds of so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation. But modern Japan, confident that advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable areas, came to forget or ignore these ancient warnings, dooming it to repeat bitter experiences when the recent tsunami struck.

Over the decades, the stones’ warnings were disregarded or forgotten by many as coastal towns boomed and people placed their faith in massive seawalls built by the Japanese government. But in some places like Aneyoshi, residents still heeded the tsunami stones’ warnings.

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“Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school,” 12-year-old Yuto Kimura told the Associated Press in 2011. “When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground.”

Aneyoshi’s tsunami stone is the only one found that explicitly describes where to build houses, but centuries of tsunamis have also left their marks on the names of places in the region, Fackler writes. While some places have names like “Valley of the Survivors” and “Wave’s Edge” that might indicate ground high enough to escape a massive wave, places that weren’t so lucky might instead be named “Octopus Grounds,” after the sea life left behind in the rubble.

“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,” Fumihiko Imamura, a professor in disaster planning at Tohoku University, told the AP.

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Four years later, parts of Japan are still recovering from the March 2011 tsunami, with about 230,000 people still living in temporary housing. The tsunami and accompanying earthquake were also responsible for the Fukushima Daiichi disaster when equipment damaged during the  disaster triggered a nuclear meltdown

New York TImes