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The Orphan Tsunami of 1700

Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America

by Brian Atwater et al.

Publication Year: 2005

Time Magazine named Atwater one of the 100 most significant people of 2005 for the tsunami research that culminated in this book. He joins American and Japanese scholars to trace a massive earthquake off the Northwest Coast that spawned a tsunami recorded in Japan. A rich array of graphic detail and narrative explains the creation, action, and lasting effects of earthquakes and tsunamis.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. 3-6

Outsiders scarcely knew of northwestern North America in the year 1700. Leading European geographers of the time left that part of the map blank. Not until 1741 would Russians land in Alaska. From there to Oregon's Cape Blanco, the coast would remain uncharted until Spanish and English expeditions of the 1770s. Across the Pacific Ocean in Japan, unusual seas ran ashore in 1700...

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1. Unearthed earthquakes

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pp. 7-26

Through most of the 20th century, North America's Cascadia region was thought incapable of generating earthquakes larger than magnitude 7.5. Any tsunami striking the region's coasts would come from afar, leaving hours for warning and evacuation. Yet by century's end, Cascadia had its own recognized source of earthquakes of magnitude 8 to 9 and of tsunamis that would reach its shores in a few...

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2. The orphan tsunami

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pp. 27-35

A Pacific tsunami flooded Japanese shores in January 1700. The waters drove villagers to high ground, damaged salt kilns and fishing shacks, drowned paddies and crops, ascended a castle moat, entered a government storehouse, washed away more than dozen buildings, and spread flames that consumed twenty more. Return flows contributed to a nautical accident that sank tons of rice and killed two sailors. Samurai...

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pp. 36-49

...A nighttime flood and ensuing fires destroyed one tenth of the houses in Kuwagasaki. In response, officials issued food and sought wood for emergency shelters (p. 38-39). An account of these events, probably written in 1700, calls the flood a "tsunami"-a term used in no other account of the 1700 tsunami in Japan (p. 40-41). The reported hour of the tsunami in Kuwagasaki, identical to...

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pp. 50-57

...High water at the south end of Miyako Bay washed away houses and entered Tsugaruishi village, 1 km inland. The same event set off a fire that burned "about 21 houses" in Kuwagasaki (p. 52; compare p. 39, col. 3). The flooding happened without an earthquake (p. 54). The water went up-valley to "Kubota Crossing"-perhaps as...

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pp. 58-65

...The sea invaded Otsuchi the same date and hour as it did 30 km to the north, in Kuwagasaki (p. 43, 72). The flooding damaged paddies, two houses, and two salt-evaporation kilns (p. 60). This damage, though small, was reported to Edo, perhaps to help justify financial relief from the Tokugawa shogunate (p. 61). An earthquake...

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pp. 66-75

...High waves on the morning of January 28, 1700, prevented a boat from entering the river-mouth port of Nakaminato. A storm that evening drove the boat to a rocky shore near Isohama village (map, lower right). Lost were all the boat's cargo-28 metric tons of rice-and two of the crew (p. 68-69, 71). Officials of Mito-han...

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pp. 76-83

...While waves held the rice boat off Nakaminato (p. 73), the sea at Miho rose and fell repeatedly, like a swift series of tides (p. 78-80). Wary of flooding, Miho's headman advised villagers to flee (p. 46; 79, columns 6-7). The lack of an associated earthquake puzzled the headman, who expected that an earthquake would precede a...

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pp. 84-92

...Unusual seas off Tanabe entered a government storehouse in Shinjo, ascended a castle moat as far as Horidobashi, and flooded farmland in Atonoura, Mikonohama, and Mera (p. 86). This inundation probably began after the 1700 tsunami's midnight arrival in Kuwagasaki (p. 43). The tsunami probably crested 2-4 m above tide level...

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3. The orphan's parent

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pp. 93-105

A trans-pacific reunion took place in 1996. Orphaned for nearly 300 years, the 1700 tsunami in Japan was reunited, on the pages of a scientific journal, with an earthquake and tsunami in North America (p.94-95). The orphan dated the earthquake to the evening of January 26, 1700 (p. 42-43) and gave its approximate size as magnitude 9. Today the 1700 tsunami is securely linked to a giant North American...

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pp. 106-109

Where Japanese writers recorded the 1700 tsunami, dozens of people helped us explore questions central to this book: Who wrote the original accounts of the flooding and damage? Why were these accounts written and how were they preserved? Which passages contain errors in copying? Where are the places described as flooded? Were these same...


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pp. 110-111


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pp. 112-123


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pp. 124-133

E-ISBN-13: 9780295802374
E-ISBN-10: 0295802375
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295985350
Print-ISBN-10: 0295985356

Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 244575998
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Orphan Tsunami of 1700

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Tsunamis -- Japan -- History -- 18th century -- Sources.
  • Paleoseismology -- Northwest, Pacific.
  • Subduction zones -- Northwest, Pacific.
  • Paleoseismology -- Holocene.
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