Ancient People Are Still Awesome: Centuries-Old Japanese Tsunami Warning Markers Saved Lives

Posted by Nicola Twilley


"High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," reads the centuries-old stone tablet above. "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point."

This marker, and several more like it, some more than 600 years old, "dot the coastline" of Japan, according to a report in The Canadian Press. Not all of them were quite as specific: Some acted more as general warnings, lasting reminders of a risk that might only recur every fourth or fifth generation.

One, in the coastal town of Kesennuma, gave instructions: "Always be prepared for unexpected tsunamis. Choose life over your possessions and valuables." Another, in the city of Natori, simply advised, "If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis." This was a warning that not everybody heeded: in Natori, where 820 bodies have been found and 1,000 people are still missing, people still left "work early after the earthquake, some picking up their children at school en route, to check the condition of their homes near the coast."

But in the tight-knit community of Aneyoshi, where marker pictured above still stands, the wisdom of their ancestors saved the homes and the lives of the tiny village's inhabitants. All of Aneyoshi's houses are built on higher ground, and 12-year-old resident Yuto Kimura explained to The Canadian Press:

Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school. When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground.

Image via the Star-Telegram; story via @stevesilberman.