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Earthquake Nation

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Earthquake Nation. The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868 - 1930. By Gregory Clancey. (Berkeley, University of California Press: 2006. Pg. xiii, 331.) ISBN: 0-520-24607-1.

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - July 31, 2006

If you have ever lived through an earthquake, you can well understand how earthquakes can affect not only the psyche of those that live in seismic zones, but also their architecture, infrastructure, and even their culture. In Earthquake Nation: The Cultural Politics of Japanese Seismicity, 1868 - 1930, Gregory Clancey provides an unforgettable glimpse into how seismic activity has affected not only the culture and architecture of Japan, but also the very foundations of the modern Japanese political structure.

In this eye opening book, Clancey illustrates not only how seismic activity, and major seismic events such as the 1891 Great Nobi Earthquake altered the cultural and political landscape of Japan, but also how such events have affected how Japan related to the West and Japanese national identity. The Nobi earthquake was an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. It killed more than 7,000 people, and it caused massive destruction to buildings and infrastructure throughout a region extending from Tokyo to Osaka, on the main Island of Japan. This earthquake was also to give birth to the Earthquake Disaster Prevention Committee and the formal study of seismicity in Japan.

Artfully written, this book is a historical page turner that will intrigue both academic and general readers. Clancey takes the reader on a journey that begins shortly after the Meiji Restoration when British scientists, architects, and engineers flooded into Japan bent upon seeing Japan transferred into a British looking country. Following the counsel proffered by the British, Japanese architecture was rapidly transformed from wooden structures to those of brick and mortar. In 1891 the Great Nobi Earthquake quickly showed the problems inherit in all too readily assimilating foreign technology as most of the British styled brick and mortar buildings collapsed, killing thousands, while the traditional Japanese structures escaped relatively unscathed. As Clancey shows, this produced a backlash against the West and the politicians that advocated Japans slide toward the West.

The bulk of this text focuses on the Nobi earthquake, and its long reaching consequences for Japan both politically and technologically. The Nobi earthquake had repercussions that forever altered the psyche of the Japanese people, and it greatly impacted Japan's development. Clancey also discusses other important earthquakes such as the 1921 Great Kant Earthquake and how earthquakes, in general, have helped to shape Japan's culture.

Clancey's account of the Nobi earthquake is riveting and it should be read by everyone interested in Japanese history and the history of seismic activity in populated areas. The author has also included extensive endnotes and an up-to-date bibliography, both of which be used as a stepping stone toward further research in this area.


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