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Looking West to Japan

Updated on April 12, 2011

Some Words of Regret

April 12, 2011

Before I dive into this article I want to express my shock and dismay at the disaster that has befallen Japan in this last month. The devastation and loss of life are, frankly, unimaginable to me. I cannot visualize the scale, the amount of grief, or the state-of-mind of those who have been effected.

I can well imagine though that every life there has been directly affected. No survivor has been untouched. Certainly every living soul remaining knows someone who has been directly affected by the loss of life and property.

My sympathies go out to them.

Japan | Source

Japan's Population and Productivity

Land Area and Location
Japan occupies an area of three hundred sixty four (364,485sq/km) thousand square kilometers in land and thirteen thousand (13,430 sq km) square kilometers in fresh water. This land area includes the Bonin Islands, Ryukyu Islands and Volcano Islands. Its coastline is just shy of thirty thousand (29,751km) kilometers long and it is situated just west of the Pacific tectonic plate on the far eastern edge of the Eurasian and Philippine tectonic plates. The Pacific plate is sub-ducting (pushing under) the Eurasian plate just east of Japan.

Japan's population is roughly one hundred twenty-six (126,475,000) million people. This is just over one third the population of the United States in a land area just smaller than the state of California.

It is currently undergoing a negative growth rate with seven births per thousand and a death rate of ten deaths per thousand.

Roughly seventy (70%) of its population lives in urban areas with the remaining thirty (30%) percent living in rural settings.

Japan's average life expectancy is eighty-two and a quarter years with women living an average eighty-five years and men an average seventy-eight years. This makes Japan the country with the longest life expectancy in the world.

Japan's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is four point three trillion ($4,338,000,000,000) dollars giving each individual Japanese citizen thirty four thousand ($34,200) dollar GDP. This is down slightly from 2008.

Of that one point one (1.1%) percent is generated from agriculture, twenty-six point two (26.2%) from industry and sixty-nine point eight (69.8%) from services.

Japan imports all of its oil, natural gas and coal. It uses four point six million barrels of oil per day.

Japan exports machinery, motor vehicles, semiconductors, electrical machinery, and chemicals to China (19%), the U.S. (17%), South Korea (8%), Taiwan (6%), and Hong Kong (5.5%). Those exports represent seven hundred sixty-five ($765,200,000,000) billion dollars annually. It imports machinery and equipment, fuel, foodstuffs, chemicals, textiles and raw materials. Those imports cost six hundred thirty-six point eight billion ($636,800,000,000) dollars annually.

All figures from the CIA World Fact Book.

Fiscal Impact of the Quake and Tsunami

In 1995 the Kobe quake ultimately cost Japan one hundred fifty (150bn) billion dollars.

The cost of March 11th 2011 quake and subsequent tsunami has finally been estimated; the Japanese government has determined that repairs to infrastructure, industry and housing will run about three hundred ($309,000,000,000) ten billion dollars or twenty-five trillion yen.

This is a cost of two thousand four hundred forty-three ($2,443.00) thousand dollars per Japanese citizen.

The death toll from the quake is estimated to be nine (9,408) thousand four hundred eight with fourteen thousand (14,716) seven hundred sixteen missing; this is a total of twenty-four (24,000) thousand people though it could be as high as thirty thousand.

Shaken Confidence
Before the quake and subsequent tsunami Japan was expecting a five point three (5,3%) percent gross domestic product, with an increase of one five percent from the previous year, but now that figure is in serious doubt.

Analysts at Credit Agricole and Capital Economics are now expecting Japan's growth rate to fall to near zero for the rest of 2011.

With the impact to power generation and transportation industry has virtually come to a stand-still.

Broken Infrastructure
It is estimated that Japan lost one hundred twenty-five (125,000) thousand buildings. Four point four million (4,400,000) homes have no power and one point five (1,500,000) million homes have no water. Airports, railways, and highways have all been damaged in the north east. This has made supplying food and water to the area extremely difficult.

Credit Rating
Due to tough economic times before the quake Japan's credit rating was downgraded. It had a 200 percent of GDP debt rate. Now the government will face an even worse situation trying to fund reconstruction. Increasing public debt is likely a given.

A Sobering Relfection

I live on the west coast of the U.S., in an area near the sport facility Marina del Rey California.

As a resident I have maps of tsunami inundation areas nearby as well as a list of routes out of the area if the need arises; all of these are in my head. I also have ready two "earthquake survival kits" which contains food, water, and a first aid kit certified to be good for three days. One is in the strongest part of my home and the other is in the trunk of the car.

In light of the Japanese disaster all of this seems like cold comfort now.

Faults and Natural Features
To the east of my location is the San Andreas fault. North, near San Francisco, is another rather large fault. In fact, over the years, hundreds of faults have been detected lacing the area immediately east of where I live. These faults run under Los Angeles and extend west, like a spider's web, to my location.

There are so many faults in fact that I have no confidence that they have all been found. For all I know I could be sitting directly on top of a yet undiscovered fault.

The Coast
For all of that I also sit a mere half mile from the Pacific ocean. Know that I can only hope the the tsunami maps I have are accurate, but to be honest I now have my doubts.

This is exacerbated by the fact that there are a limited number of roadways running East/West and only one of them goes through my location. Will any of them be navigable if I need them?

Why We Should Care
Of course, there is a much bigger picture here. There is a huge fault, called the Cascadia fault, just off the coast of Oregon. It is almost the same exact size and shape as the fault off the coast of Indonesia.

There is ample evidence that the Cascadia fault has slipped in the last few hundred years with equally ample evidence that tsunamis raced into Oregon from the coast. This was not long before the invasion of Europeans into this land. The last known quake from this rift was in 1700.

There is also a San Andreas connection. Ruptures on this rift are thought to cause echoing ruptures along the northern San Andreas.

Perhaps worst of all the Cascadia fault has been classified as being capable of creating a 9.0 quake. This is the same magnitude of the March 11, quake in Japan.

Could We Survive?
Surely many of us will, but we must bear the following in mind.

Japan is quite possibly the most earth-quake prepared country on the planet. The U.S. (the West Coast in particular) is most certainly not.

We have many buildings in Los Angeles that were erected before the latest quake building codes went into effect. Worse many of our older schools were also constructed before this latest set of standards was published.

Our highways are constantly crowded with commuter traffic and though we have quite possibly the best warning system on the planet, the preparedness required of the public is sadly lacking. In a free country its difficult (and that is putting it mildly) to get everyone to pay particular attention to survival strategies when they are so busy simply making a living.

As mentioned Japan is quite possibly the most earth-quake prepared country on the planet. Yet the March 11th quake has severely tested the spirit of these people to the core. They still seem to be trying to grasp the magnitude of the damage. There are signs that the Japanese are finally starting to rally their collective spirit once again, but it has clearly be seriously shaken.

How would we cope? Perhaps the better question is 'would we cope at all?'.

Looting is non-existent in Japan. I seriously doubt we'd have that level of cooperation here.

Hording is a problem, but at least the Japanese wait patiently in line before emptying store selves. Would we wait in line or pillage as soon as humanly possible? I shudder to consider the likely possibility here.

The stability and safety of the nuclear facilities in Japan are now in serious question. Our reactors are of a different design, but have our engineers considered every contingency? Japan's engineer thought they had.

Chilled to the Bone
As I sit here and write this I can't help but compare our likely responses to a disaster as I watch what the Japanese have done at every step. It's chilling to imagine what differences will appear when (not if) such a disaster strikes.

I'm also keenly aware that I can't imagine, and therefore plan, for every possible problem that will rear its ugly head.

Are We Prepared?

The simple answer is "no."

Yes, we have escape routes clearly mapped and marked. Most Californians (and I'll bet Washingtonians and Oregonians) are keenly aware of quake alerts and the subsequent warnings.

What I'm not sure of is what our people will do if they need to.

Unlike Japan we don't have state wide drills.

Unlike the Japanese we don't display the stoicism or patience that they do.

Unlike Japan we don't revere our elderly or plan for their futures.

Wrapping Up

Japan has been through this many times over the centuries. They always bounce back. That this has been the worst quake and tsunami in recorded history is certainly a factor, but already the Japanese seem to be rallying to recover. They must; not just for their sakes but for the world's.

I'm not so sure about us though.


The author was not compensated in any way, either monetarily, with discounts, or freebies by any of the companies mentioned.

Though the author does make a small profit for the word count of this article none of that comes directly from the manufacturers mentioned. The author also stands to make a small profit from advertising attached to this article.

The author has no control over either the advertising or the contents of those ads.


Submit a Comment

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thanks for commenting Dan.

  • Dan in Japan profile image

    Dan in Japan 

    7 years ago from Hiroshima, Japan

    Hi, I'm reading this well after the disaster, but I wanted to say thanks for this informative article. I live in Western Japan, where we had no immediate effects, but "3/11" in Japan continues to overshadow political and social issues and the economic situation.

  • LiamBean profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Los Angeles, Calilfornia

    Thank all of you for your comments. I hope that JRB's example bears out. I was not here for the Northridge quake and did not see what transpired during that period. I will be here for the next quake.

    annaw, heart4theword, and Laura du Toit, I do agree that the Japanese have demonstrated remarkable unity and spirit. They have an enormous task ahead of them. I am still following this story though the news outlets seem to be concentrating only on the power plant crisis these days.

  • Laura du Toit profile image

    Laura du Toit 

    7 years ago from South Africa

    Thanks for a very informative article. In a recent article about the tsunami in Japan there were photographs of a road that had been ripped in half by the earthquake and photographs of the road that had been repaired and in use once again 6 days later. That to me was proof of the sheer determination of the Japanese to fight back and get on with life as quickly and efficiently as possible. I live in South Africa where just routine road maintenance seems to drag on for months and I very much doubt that we would be able to do such major repairs in the short space of 6 days!

    Great hub!

  • heart4theword profile image


    7 years ago from hub

    I must say, the news footage I've seen, I think the people in Japan...are handling things quite calmly. Exercise drills, surely would help heighten preparedness!

  • annaw profile image


    7 years ago from North Texas

    I agree with you in terms of whether we in the U.S. could do as the Japanese have; we could not. The panic would be greater than anything this country has ever experienced. I was also thinking about the economy and the "bailouts" that possibly staved off a real life depression. I could see the looting in the streets and crime rising to an all time high because we would not have been able to deal with it. I admire the Japanese, they are strong and resilient and yes, patient. I am saddened to learn today the radiation levels are now equal to the Chernobl(sp) disaster. There was an apology to the people but I say a little too late. My prayers are with the people

  • profile image


    7 years ago

    As an Angeleno who went through the Northridge quake in '94, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the neighborhood solidarity during the aftermath. I was living in Hollywood around La Brea and Sunset at the time. In '94 this was not a great neighborhood. When the quake hit the whole neighborhood pretty much organized. There were a couple of women who with infants, baby formula was rounded up and provided. People with bottled water shared. Several barbecue grills were fired up, and people were fed.

    There was one drunk guy who was freaking out about his cat. Other than that every one was on their best behavior, and doing their best to help each other out.


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