Illusions of Safety: Culture and Earthquake Hazard Response in California and Japan

Illusions of Safety: Culture and Earthquake Hazard Response in California and Japan

Illusions of Safety: Culture and Earthquake Hazard Response in California and Japan

Illusions of Safety: Culture and Earthquake Hazard Response in California and Japan

Synopsis

Illusions of Safety surveys the cultural influences on responses to earthquake risk in both the United States and Japan. The attitudes of Japanese and Californian respondents are compared and analyzed for their shaping of individual responses to earthquakes. Survey responses and the authors' firsthand experience of the reactions to the Kobe, Japan, earthquake in 1995 and the Northridge, California, earthquake are presented and show that the Japanese generally prefer a communal approach to earthquake response whereas Americans (more specifically Californians) place more emphasis on household self-sufficiency. The authors examine how these reactions influence public policy for earthquake preparedness and response in each country.

Excerpt


Earthquake Hazards in Japan and the United States

Earthquakes elicit some of the most intense fears that human beings can experience. The earth beneath our feet is literally and symbolically a source of human stability. When the ground trembles, this stability is shaken. Accounts of victims of catastrophic earthquakes consistently report terror, panic, fear and awe of the great force of the earth. This was written of the Charleston, South Carolina earthquake of 1876 (Cheeves, 1897, pp. 378-379):

The long roll deepened and spread into an awful roar that seemed to pervade at once the troubled earth and the still air above and around. The tremor was now a rude, rapid quiver, that agitated the whole lofty, strong-walled building as though it were being shaken -- shaken by the hand of an immeasurable power, with intent to tear its joints asunder and scatter its stones and bricks abroad, as a tree casts its over-ripened fruit before the breath of a gale . . . As we dashed down the stairway and out into the street, from every quarter arose the shrieks, the cries of pain and fear, the prayers and wailings of terrified women and children, the hoarse shouts of excited men.

In this passage we have not only a description of the ground shaking, but also the attribution of power to a higher order ("shaken by the hand of an immeasurable power,") and a description of the sounds of terror from residents. The Japan home Office (1926: 52) account of the Kanto earth-quake of 1923 was similar: "Frightened by the unusual phenomenon most citizens rushed out of doors and remained there spell-bound with terror and not knowing what was going to happen". The Tokyo Municipal Office also reported this terror (Tokyo Municipal Office, 1933, p. 7):

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