Saturday morning, Kumamoto, Japan, on the island of Kyushu, was hit by a magnitude 7.3 earthquake. It followed a smaller M-6.5 quake on Thursday that rattled nerves (and a lot more), but unfortunately turned out to be just a precursor to the larger seismic event.
When I was a boy, we lived in the city of Kagoshima for about seven years total. Kagoshima is also on Kyushu, located about 120 miles south of Kumamoto. We traveled around the island of Kyushu a lot, and I’m familiar with all the areas that have been in the news the past few days: Kumamoto, Mt. Aso, Fukuoka, and some of the Oita prefecture. Mt. Aso is a volcano that erupted unexpectedly in September of 2015, fortunately without any known deaths or injuries.
We rode out many earthquakes during our time in Japan. Kagoshima city is located across the bay from one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Sakurajima, which has also been in the news again lately. Constant eruptions and ash fall were part of the lifestyle. For the most part, it was kind of cool and amazing, and it never felt scary or dangerous that a volcano was regularly booming its displeasure and sending rocks and ash high into the sky right across the bay from us. Same with the earthquakes – they just became part of the deal with living in Japan. We experienced a lot of minor quakes and two or three pretty good ones when we lived there, but not anything like this past week’s violent episodes.
I haven’t been in Kagoshima for over 30 years, but I feel for the people in Kyushu right now. It seems especially cruel that some people apparently thought the worst was over after Thursday’s quake, only to suffer far worse on Saturday. Japan has actually had quite a few major disasters in the years since we returned to the US. Besides the obvious giant Fukushima nightmare quake and Tsunami, other standouts include massive landslides in Kagoshima itself in 1993, the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe in 1995, and several typhoons that have killed a number of people.
In case you’re thinking that I dodged a bunch of bullets by getting out of Japan when I did, I’m not sure if that’s really the case. I now live near Portland, Oregon, land of impending doom thanks to its proximity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone. I think about it a lot, to be honest. Scientists state incredibly high odds of a huge earthquake hitting us within the next 50 years. The Japanese, by contrast, didn’t even think the fault that just belted them with an M-7.3 quake was likely to slip – they weren’t concerned about activity in that particular location. I’m not sure if that freaks me out even more, or gives me an excuse to trick myself into believing that everyone’s wrong about Cascadia too.
The earth is a crazy place. A lot of it is due to the stupid things humans do, and some of it is because we live on a planet that doesn’t always feel like playing gentle host to the 7 billion people crawling around on its skin.