Sadly, due to its location in the Pacific Rim, Japan is prone to devastating earthquakes and tsunamis. While modern catastrophes usually come to mind, the local population's knowledge and expertise regarding these events date back centuries. One of the best examples of this is the so-called “tsunami stones”— slabs with inscriptions that warn residents about building their homes on low ground in case a big wave hits.
One of the most chilling stones is located in the village of Aneyoshi. The 10-foot-tall tablet reads: “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.” The residents have taken the advice to heart—their homes withstood the tragic 2011 earthquake and tsunami while some neighboring villages experienced terrible losses.
Other stones offer broader yet essential advice. “If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis,” pleads a slab reminding people to take to the higher ground immediately after an earthquake. Locals describe that slabs usually sprout after a deadly tsunami, such as the 1896 one that sadly claimed 22,000 lives. There are also tablets that indicate ground high enough to be safe from a fatal wave.
The slabs dot Japan's coastline, and some are over 600 years old. While some groups are aware of the threat, others have built communities closer to the ocean. “The tsunami stones are warnings across generations, telling descendants to avoid the same suffering of their ancestors. Some places heeded these lessons of the past, but many didn’t,” said Itoko Kitahara, a specialist in the history of natural disasters to The New York Times in 2011.
This is also a good reminder to appreciate the knowledge of people who have lived in a place for decades. “That tsunami stone was a way to warn descendants for the next 100 years that another tsunami will definitely come,” said Mr. Kimura, a local fisherman.
The resourcefulness and timeless words of caution carved in the stones have fascinated the world because they connect past and present generations in a mission to keep coastal populations safe. To quote a Reddit user, this is a great example of “Ancestors being bros.”
Japan is dotted with so-called “tsunami stones”— slabs with inscriptions that warn residents against building on low ground.
The stones have been around for centuries.
h/t: [Smithsonian Magazine]