One of the Japanese words that we use in English is Tsunami. There is no singular English word with exactly the same meaning. It is no mystery why the word comes from the Japanese language. The Japanese archipelago is located in an area where several continental and oceanic plates meet. Japan is one of the world’s most seismically active areas. About 20 per cent of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater can be felt in Japan. The seismic activity is the source of the many volcanoes and hot springs around the country. The islands that make up Japan are the result of seismic activity.

Our experience with earthquakes is very limited. I have memories associated with the Yellowstone Park earthquake that occurred when I was 6 years old. That measured 7.2 and resulted in 28 fatalities. A huge landslide took the side off of a mountain and created a lake where there had not been one. We were about 50 miles from the epicenter of that shake, which occurred in the night. I remember much of what followed, but don’t know whether I have actual memories of the shaking itself. I have since felt earthquakes in the places I have lived and once experienced an earthquake when visiting in Costa Rica, but I’m pretty used to the earth feeling pretty firm and secure under me.

Folks who live in earthquake prone areas, however, get used to the shaking. Most of the time it isn’t very violent and life simply goes on. Last night’s 6.2 shake came at 7:23. We were all seated, having just finished supper and our daughter was feeding our grandson. The dog was the first to respond. He got up and came over to the rest of us. Then we felt it. Our son in law announced, “earthquake.” We all felt it. I was amazed at how calm everyone was. There were no sirens, no car alarms going off, no one rushing out into the street. Nothing fell off of shelves. The buildings here on the Air Force Base are very earthquake resistant and safe places to be in a quake. The biggest visual clue of the quake in the room where we were was the gentle swaying of the ceiling fan.

The quake was centered off the coast of Fukushima at a depth of about 50 km, according to news reports available this morning. The location is enough to get my attention. It is not far from the center of the massive 2011 earthquake that hit 9.0 and caused a huge tsunami. That quake resulted in a nuclear disaster that was the worst since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. At least 15,000 people were killed by that earthquake and the resulting tsunami.

Last night’s quake was felt as far away as Tokyo. Misawa, where we are, is quite a bit closer to the epicenter and the shaking was enough to get our attention. No damage has been reported from the quake so far.

According to Earthquake Track, Misawa has experienced two earthquakes in the last 24 hours, the strongest being the one we felt. An earlier quake measured 4.6 and was a bit closer to our location. A total of 3 earthquakes have occurred in the last week, 5 in the last month, and 56 in the last year. Earthquakes are common in this part of the world.

Having a lot of experience with earthquakes and tsunamis has resulted in a lot of precautions around Japan. Japan has led the world with the development of earthquake resistant building design and construction techniques. Tsunami evacuation routes are clearly identified in all coastal areas. There are signs in most public buildings with instructions on what to do in an earthquake. There is an acceptance of the simple fact that there are forces in this world that are well beyond the capacity of humans to control.

I’m curious about whether or not I would have been aware of the earthquake had it occurred during the night when I was sleeping. I don’t think that that amount of movement would have awakened me. The 4.6 earthquake of the previous evening occurred when I was awake, but I didn’t feel it. We weren’t in the same room with the dog for that shake. He seems to be very sensitive to the motion.

In Japan authorities know it is not a matter of if, but rather of when a major quake exceeding 7.0 will occur. It has been nearly a century since a massive earthquake has centered near Tokyo, the nation’s largest city. Estimates vary, but some predict that a quake capable of producing tens of thousands of casualties is likely within the next 50 years. While scientists have become very adept at monitoring earthquakes and recording their force and location, prediction is not yet an accurate science. The best minds in the field don’t know when the next quake will occur.

Meanwhile life goes on. The trains all have contingency plans in case of earthquakes, but for the most part they run uninterrupted. Certainly they are closer to schedule than public transportation in the United States. People are used to them arriving and leaving at exactly the time scheduled. People pause during an earthquake, but their routines and schedules remain the same. Last night’s shake is not big news in Japan today. Internet news sources note that the quake occurred and that no tsunami warning was issued, but other stories are garnering more attention and longer articles. A 6.2 earthquake that does little or no damage and causes no tsunami just isn’t big news.

As far as I know there have been no aftershocks from this quake and quite a bit of time has passed since the initial shake. We’ve no change in our plans for the day. For us, who are unused to earthquakes it is a momentarily interesting phenomenon, worth noting, but not at all disruptive of our lives. This is the place where our daughter and her family live. It doesn’t seem to be inherently more dangerous that other places in the world. Quite frankly it seems safer her than in many US cities, including Dayton and El Paso, where real danger disrupted the lives of so many in the last 24 hours.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!