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Higashi Mikawa mining ancient sources for tsunami info

Chunichi Shimbun

Municipalities in the Higashi Mikawa region in Aichi Prefecture have been busy examining records of major earthquakes and tsunami that hit the region in the past.

Last August, four cities in proximity to Mikawa Bay and the Sea of Enshu — Toyohashi, Toyokawa, Tahara and Gamagori — came up with ¥4.2 million to pay the Higashi Mikawa Regional Research Center in Toyohashi to conduct the research.

The study has found paintings, texts and stories passed down depicting situations such as countless fishing boats swallowed up by tsunami and disaster-stricken residents getting relief rice.

The four cities will compile the records left by their forebears in a booklet and use it for preventive steps against a future big quake that is predicted to hit the Tokai and Tonankai regions.

According to the disaster prevention and crisis management division of the Aichi Prefectural Government, this is the first research into historic documents on tsunami conducted by municipalities in the Tokai region.

Katsuhiko Sato, 40, senior researcher at the Higashi Mikawa center, and Yoshihisa Fujita, 71, a professor emeritus at Aichi University, have visited 30 locations, including temples and old houses, in the four cities and studied old documents and written materials owned by local historians.

In January, they confirmed that a hand-painted “ema” (wooden votive plaque) kept by Mikuriya Shrine in Nishinanane in Toyohashi provides details of tsunami. It describes boats being washed away by huge waves.

A notation reads: “At around 5 a.m. on Nov. 4 in 1854 (in the lunar calender), a massive earthquake struck this place as if all the creations on the Earth would be destroyed. Immediately after that, huge tsunami waves rushed towards the village and almost all the fishing boats were washed away and nothing was left.”

In the aftermath of this disaster, the villagers apparently asked an artist to produce a painting to pass along the experience to their descendants. It is believed the ema was made from a plank from a boat stuck in a pine tree.

According to Meteorological Agency records, an estimated magnitude 8.4 quake centered in Suruga Bay struck the Tokai region on Dec. 23 (Nov. 4 in the lunar calendar) in 1854 late in the Edo Period. It is known as the Ansei Great Earthquake.

The research effort has also found that tsunami triggered by the 1707 Hoei Earthquake devastated 12 temples along the coast of the Sea of Enshu. Hakusan Shrine, which used to be on the coast in the Shiotsu area in Gamagori, was relocated to higher ground after being hit by tsunami in 1498.

“By putting all the pieces of the history together that had been kept separately in various places in the Higashi Mikawa region, we realized again that massive earthquakes and tsunami hit the coast of this region in the past,” professor Fujita said.

“Some areas struck by tsunami were redeveloped as residential areas after the Edo Period. However, the records tell us that tsunami went up the river and caused damage in the area. I would encourage the people to learn from the past experience and strengthen their preventive measures,” Sato said.

By the end of this month, the cities will issue 10,000 copies of the 16-page booklet, which will include color photos and illustrations of the collected material.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 17.