Tokyo Will Occur Someday

The City Risk Index recently published by the world’s leading special insurance and reinsurance market Lloyd’s ranked Tokyo in second place in its overall rating. [1] It assessed threats to the economies of large cities based on anthropogenic as well as natural factors.

In Japan it is a well-known fact that the economic and administrative centre is vulnerable. Scientists estimate a probability of 70 per cent for a potentially devastating earthquake to happen within the next 30 years. This certainty is the root of a whole range of industries to do with the prognosis and insurance of large-scale risks as well as the prevention and mitigation of the consequences of catastrophic events. Meanwhile, what are the implications for the individual citizen of this prognosis that abstracts and quantifies risk with the aim of applying it to economic questions?
In specifically designed training facilities, the population exercises to be prepared for the direct and indirect consequences of earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons or volcanic activities, using simulations and models. The routine exposure to preset risk scenarios is meant to generate a feeling of control and security in the face of prospective catastrophes. To what extent, however, will the repetition, the regular instruction using models or the simulation of particular scenarios, prepare the people for handling the incalculable, the unimaginable, which is inherent to the term catastrophe?
According to a belief that gained popularity in the nineteenth century, earthquakes are caused by Namazu, giant catfish, which dwell beneath the Japanese archipelago. It was said that whenever one of the gods in charge of keeping the Namazu in check was distracted, devastating tremors occur. To hold earthly phenomena, such as the wrongdoings of the ruling class, responsible for the distraction of the gods, was indeed common. To protect their houses from being destroyed, people would put up graphic reproductions of Namazu being controlled and, at times, punished for having caused previous earthquakes by the respective gods. Another popular theme of these Namazu-e (lit. catfish pictures) was the depiction of representatives of the trades that are either harmed by or benefit from the consequences of earthquakes. Carpenters, for instance, were considered beneficiaries since it was up to them to rebuild the city. [2]
Further, it was considered that, by triggering earthquakes Namazu were capable of redistributing wealth and, more generally of rectifying established inbalances in politics and economy. In correspondence with Confucian thought, it was believed that the flow of wealth, just as the flow of bodily fluids or the flow of energy in the universe, should circulate perpetually.




  1. Jump Up Lloyd’s City Risk Index 2015-2025
  2. Jump Up Smits, Gregory: Shaking up Japan: Edo Society and the 1855 Catfish Picture Prints, in: Journal of Social History, Volume 39, Number 4, Summer 2006, S. 13 ff