The Imminent Tokyo Mega QuakeFollow @gaijinass
Guest post by: T.S. Muffin Man
If someone were to suggest that a natural catastrophe could cause a major period of planet-wide economic, and thence social, upheaval, most would consider this scenario highly unlikely, if not preposterous: perhaps conceivable only in the rejected script for a Hollywood disaster movie.
If pressed, the reader might bring to mind the unlikely event of a large meteorite striking the Earth. But the first part of such a natural catastrophe is already unfolding in Japan. I refer of course to the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 and the consequent triple partial nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
The magnitude 9 earthquake that struck that day was the largest in Japan’s recorded history and one of the most powerful to have occurred on this planet. It shifted the earth four inches on its axis and raised the seabed 88 feet. It was also the most expensive natural disaster in human history. Estimates for the cost of rebuilding the pulverized coastline, and the towns and cities destroyed by the tsunami amount to $200 billion. Moreover, costs of decontaminating the four destroyed nuclear power stations and surrounding towns and farmland in Fukushima and other Japanese prefectures will be in the magnitude of $300 billion.
Caesium 137 and other radioactive isotopes have been spread over much of northern Japan, contaminating the food supply, threatening the health of hundreds of thousands of Japanese. As will be detailed within my book, the disaster at Fukushima came within a whisker of becoming a full triple meltdown. Despite the urgent need to replace oil as our principal source of energy it will henceforth be very difficult to construct new nuclear power stations in the industrialised countries, due to widespread visceral anti-nuclear sentiment. After Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear power is generally perceived as being far too dangerous a source of energy. Germany has now emphatically rejected nuclear power generation. Henceforth, Japan will give top future priority to generating energy from clean renewable resources. Of its 57 nuclear power stations only 2 are currently in operation.
As bad as the earthquake/tsunami/meltdown catastrophes have been for Japan, the country now faces the imminent prospect of even greater disaster: since the March 11 earthquake activity along tectonic plates nearer and under the Japanese capital has increased. Magnitude 3 earthquakes in the vicinity of the Kanto Plain have multiplied fourfold. Seismologists from the University of Tokyo now predict a major earthquake will strike the Japanese capital. The likelihood of a magnitude 7 or larger quake striking a conurbation inhabited by 33.5 million people is now 70% within the next four years.
Tokyo/Yokohama and its sprawling suburbs is both the most densely populated and also the most economically vital area of the Japanese archipelago. The headquarters of the vast majority of Japanese corporations are located in the capital. All political and bureaucratic power is centred there. The ports at Yokohama and Tokyo are essential for Japan’s trade with the rest of the world. In today’s globalised economy Western and Asian countries are critically dependent on high-tech products and components manufactured in Japan. Should these be cut off for even a limited time economic chaos will follow.
As mentioned above, the March 11 catastrophe was the most expensive natural disaster in history. Japan already had debts equivalent to 220% of GDP even before the tsunami struck. The country will somehow manage to finance reconstruction in the wake of this disaster without repatriating its nest egg invested in US Treasury bonds. But when the imminent major earthquake strikes the capital Japan will have no choice but to repatriate most or all of its holdings in foreign nest-eggs to pay for a colossal decade-long rebuilding project in its shattered capital. This will in turn have a hugely adverse effect on the US, and thence world, economy. A major earthquake striking Tokyo will affect every man, woman and child on the planet for years to come. With each passing week the odds on this scenario occurring become shorter.
T.S. Muffin Man has lived in Tokyo for three decades. He is a writer, an NLP and Hypnotherapy expert and at least fifty percent Mayan doomsday harbinger.
You can get in more trouble with these:
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And despite all that, I wish I was still living in Japan.
And Despite all this, I have no plans to leave.
No need to explain yourself there, I completely understand. If I didn’t have a daughter to worry about I’d still be there.
How bad has Hokkaido been affected? The radiation and contaminated food over much of northern Japan has me a bit worried.
With respect to the author, I don’t think there’s any part of this article that’s correct. The predicted 70% likelihood (author omitted the word ‘predicted’ for some reason) of a big quake is from the Tokyo seismology people, but seismology is a bit of a pseudo-science – 100% statistics, 0% physics – and it’s as difficult to predict an earthquake as throwing wet spaghetti onto your wall then trying to predict the exact hour that it’s going to fall down. So far their predictions have been somewhat inversely correlated to the actual occurence of earthquakes – ie they get it wrong worse than somebody who throws darts at a map of Japan.
The radiation/contamination all over Japan thing is more interesting as a study in mass hysteria than anything else. If you live in an area with a lot of granite (eg Cornwall in the UK) then you’re going to get a much bigger hit from that than you would even if you lived fairly close to Fukushima. The radioactive food thing is such a piss-weak scare story that I honestly don’t even think it deserves reference. This kind of stuff is like porno for bored Japanese housewives who really love having something to shit their pants over. If you look at the facts it’s a total non-event. Even the anti-nuclear dudes who have been desparately fishing around for evidence of things going to hell in a hand-cart have reluctantly drawn up a blank.
If the big one does hit then Japanese insurers may be pulling out of their foreign assets, but the Japanese government will not be selling down USTs. It makes more sense (from almost any perspective) for them to borrow in their own currency. Government debt of 220% of GDP is not in any way a problem for a country with a low level of private debt and control of its own fiat currency. Money supply growth potential (the relevant metric as to whether governments can borrow) can easiliy accomodate this.
Anyway – the main point is – absent a massive tsunami, I’m not actually sure that a magnitude 7 earthquake is going to do very much damage – the 9 one in March must have been about that strength in Tokyo – felt that way at least – and it did bugger all. The buildings are all earthquake resistant. Even in Tohoku it appears that the earthquake itself did little damage – it was the tsunami that was the problem. I guess you might worry about a tsunami but Tokyo is in a natural bay so it would have to approach at a pretty particular angle.
I’m amazed that some people still call radioactive contamination scaremongering or silliness on the part of anyone who believes it. I don’t pretend to know any more than what’s been disseminated by the media, government, or individuals who have done their own testing. The fact is, with all the conflicting reports, it’d probably be impossible to get any kind of accurate picture of the state of things as they are right now. Years down the line, maybe. I take no issue with people who believe it or don’t. To be honest with you, I still don’t know what to believe. Some days I think it’s utter hose manure, and other days I think that parts of Japan are in some serious trouble from the radiation. But I think chiding people, especially those in Japan, for believing they’re in danger is a bit harsh. I don’t think anyone wants to be scared of radioactive contamination in their home country, but recent events have made it unavoidable for a lot of people. They just don’t know who to trust. And you can’t really blame anyone for distrusting the government in light of how they handled things after this disaster.
On the earthquake, I absolutely agree. You can’t predict them with any kind of accuracy. I remember reading a few months ago that the same seismology department in Tokyo University was split on when the Big One will hit Tokyo. But one thing they all agree on is how bad it will be. There was an in-depth analysis which was the subject of a long program. Most researchers agreed that a tsunami hitting Tokyo was unlikely due to the reasons you mentioned above. But if the Big One hit in Kanagawa, Tokyo would almost assuredly experience a tsunami. And buildings crumbling wasn’t the major concern. It was fires. Uncontrollable fires due to the close proximity of houses and buildings in the metro Tokyo area. Government officials admitted that there was no way even a fraction of the fires could be dealt with on the scale that a major earthquake in Tokyo would likely cause, and that if you’re trapped or in need of medical aid, you’re basically screwed unless your neighbors help you out, because the metro government wouldn’t even function for at least a day. So no, I don’t think any of that is scaremongering. There’s no harm in telling people what might happen if the worst does occur.
During the big floods, (93 I think) here in Iowa, You could see an entire town up to just under the second story of buildings in water. As if God was laughing his @$$ off, some of those second story portions of buildings were on fire. As crazy as it sounds a tsunami could easily cause fires. God thought “oh this is gonna be good. No one is gonna see this coming. Flood/Water = Fire! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” Thanks god, thanks a lot. Anyway there are plenty of pictures on the net of situations involving act of God amounts of water and the buildings trapped in it on fire. At least God doesn’t make it rain gasoline and put out his cigar on us.
I don’t accuse the general public of ‘scaremongering’ (well… not most of them, at least) but I think the media really gets a free ride on radiation fears and it serves its own interests by promoting them rather than dealing with them in a non-emotional way. If I had to think of something to give more credulous members of the public the shits then I’d probably come up with something like radiation – you can’t see it, you can’t feel it, it’s man-made, it can give you a very nasty disease, it affects children worse than adults. Many members of the public seem to have something of a logic bypass when presented with these facts, and then refuse to believe that things which are clearly not radioactive, are clearly not radioactive. It’s not like it’s hard to check for radiation. You can probably buy a freaking geiger counter on ebay these days. The food radiation limits are set incredibly low and even then they haven’t had many red flags.
I’m no massive fan of the Japanese government – like I wouldn’t let them run anything more vital to human society than an ice cream van, let alone a developed economy – but I don’t fault them too much for the March 11 thing. To my mind they were fairly transparent, and given that they clearly had more than a few balls in the air I think their announcements were reasonably clear. From both an ex-post and an ex-ante perspective telling people to evacuate Tokyo or some similar plan would have been a total disaster.
Boy, that old chestnut again, more radioactivity in Cornwall. The number times thats been repeated in the comment section of the Guardian and Independent!
The word ‘predict’ is there in my preface. You are quite right that seismology and earthquake prediction is inexact. However, that doesnt mean it should be dismissed. Tokai earthquakes, and Tokyo earthquakes do strike with approximate predictability. Based on historical precedent both are overdue. To which you could say ‘well this true, but that doesnt mean that one will strike in the next 4 years’. However, on top of these two being overdue based on historial precedent, Mar 11th has hastened their likely of occuring. There are now 4 times as many mag 3 or below quakes occuring in the Kanto as was happening before that time. Moreover, a 25km piece of crustal plate in the north Kanto has broken off, with other sections of plate pushing against it (yes, I have sources for this). In addition, in Sagami Bay, one end of the bay is rising by about 3 cm a year, the other end falling, This has been going on for many years. At some time this crustal section must spring back. Mar 11 has just speeded up trends already taking place. The broken piece of plate further complicates things.
As for the quake in Tokyo on Mar 11, not anywhere near a 7. It was about 5.8. 7 is far larger. A 7 is ten times more powerful than a six, so about 12 times more powerful than that day. And there is no reason that the Tokyo quake would not be an 8.
As for Japan not repatriating US bonds, well, we’ll have to disagree. Japan was already the biggest debtor country of the G7 countries ( admittedly most debt owed to its own people) before Mar 11. The
combined tsunami/ quake/meltdown/evacuation/compensation make the Tohoku earthquake to largest natural disaster in history, an estimated $500 billion.
VAT must now be raised twice to raise funds (admittedly also for pensions and healthcare). If a big quake hits Tokyo it will be far more expensive and devasting than rural Tohoku because the capital is so densely populated, but more so because all of the KEY DECISION MAKERS are here. Not just heads of companies, but top bureacrats and politicians.
You thought they were headless chickens post Mar 11? A direct hit on Tokyo would be much worse. And the Western world is heavily dependent on Japanese technology. Now, if a little country like Greece can cause havoc with European economies, what would a disabled Tokyo do? This is after all a metropolis of 35 million people and also a country where individual initiiative and non-group decision making is extremely rare.
Well, I don’t read the comments section of the guardian, but I don’t think there’s some kind of physical law which states that the more times something is repeated, the less true it becomes.
The kanto fragment is indeed correct, however all agree that this complicates prediction rather than makes it more accurate. There is no reason it should make an earthquake more likely, which is what you are trying to infer. I haven’t heard the argument that Sagami bay has to [sic] ‘spring back’, but it seems a troublingly simple logic and I can’t imagine it being endorsed by leading seismologists. Many of the aftershocks of March 11 were close to Tokyo and were greater than 6, so I don’t agree that the local force of the March 11 earthquake was a 5.8, since that was significantly greater than any of them.
I don’t disagree that a Tokyo earthquake would have some economic repercussions, but repatriation of US Treasuries is not going to be the transmission method. The trade links are important but companies have been diversifying away from Tokyo for a while now anyway. Osaka contributes more to goods exports. The Greece comparison is cheap and irrelevant – Greece makes no difference to the global economy beyond its capacity to act as a harbinger for the failure of the Eurozone. Were it not a Eurozone member then nobody would pay it half a mind.
I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, and I’m not saying that it’s going to be a buffet lunch, but there’s no point in talking it up for cheap thrills and subsequent mutual back-slapping about what a bunch of crazy horses all us Tokyo expats are. The style of reporting you’re going in for about planet-wide social upheaval (and that was in reference to the Tohoku one – I look forward to your colourful prose regarding a Tokyo quake) would slide quite neatly into the comments section of the Daily Mail.
Actually I am something of a legitimate crazy horse. Anyway, I’ve had my moments. I am not spun up on all the research, the data etc, but I think you are over simplifying certain things. Keep in mind also, and this is up to Muffin Man as to whether or not he feels compelled to do it, but much of what he claims in his little article here is supported in his book. Interesting for me to see where these comments go.
I’ll try a reply tomorrow. Your site seems to have wiped out most of my last one. Arrgh, Cant be bothered tonight.
Alright, let’s see if this post can be entered today. First of all, the Kanto fragment. It does indeed complicate things. It also makes it more likely that a quake near Tokyo would be complex i.e. have more than on focal point (at least this is the view of Japanese seismologists). Just as the Mar11 quake was complex, because several sections of plate broke off over a number of seconds, thus making the tsunami larger, a ‘complex’ quake under the Kanto would probably result in more damage and loss of life. This is the view of Japanese seismologists whose opinions I value.
The quake as experienced in Tokyo was 5.8. I searched for this info for long time. While there were certainly aftershocks greater than mag 6, NONE OF THEM were near Tokyo. They were all off Fukushima or further north. While seismology may be an inexact science, the recording of quake magnitude is not. Another way you can tell that Mar11 was not a 7 is to visit an earthquake prevention/education centre and experience firsthand what a 7 feels like. Near Komagome you can sit in a replica of Japanese rooms while a 20 second simulation of the Kanto earthquake takes place. Its much more powerful than the one on Mar11th as experienced in Tokyo.
Repatriation of US held bonds?: The Japanese economy was by far the most indebted of any G7 country even before Mar11. (Yes its true most of the debts are held within Japan, but they are still debts). Mar11th and subsequent tsunami/devastation/ meltdown/ evacuation was, in total, the most expensive natural disaster in world history. An estimated $500 billion dollars, possibly more, depending on how difficult full decommissioning is (very difficult I suspect, never been done before). In order to pay for this the Government is now forced to raise VAT twice in the next few years (yes it’s also to build up pension funds and pay for health care for rapidly aging society). Though a very wealthy country, Japan is only just able to raise the money to pay for this unprecedented crisis. A large quake under Tokyo would leave no choice but to repatriate foreign investments. Where else would they get the money form?
Now, consider that Tohoku is mostly rural and relatively sparsely populated. Tokyo on the other hand is the key fulcrum for everything that happens in the country. Every significant corporation has its headquarters located in Tokyo. The bureaucracy and top politicians all located in Tokyo within a few miles of the head of Tokyo Bay. The Kanto is home to 35 million people. There are parts of Tokyo without adequate areas of escape in the event of large fires (principal cause of death in 1923). 75% of houses in the suburbs are principally built of wood. Also, the Kanto is much more densely populated than in 1923.
For international business, the death or injury of CEOs and key decision makers would cause panic among those doing business with Japanese companies. The gov’t, bureaucrats and TEPCO were like headless chickens when the meltdowns started to occur. Panic ensued. How much more so when key decision makers can not be contacted, or lie injured or dead? Remember too, mobile phones will once again crash. Then there is oil refining – much of Japans oil refining is conducted around the Bay on reclaimed land. That’s not going to survive a 7.8.
The Western world is heavily dependent on Japanese technology, far more so than is commonly realised. It’s not about the DVD players, Toyota cars and Nikon cameras. It’s the tens of thousands of high tech components – essential to Western business- that Japan has monopolies or large market shares in. Example: American car manufacturing and Boeing jet production would grind to halt without key Japanese components.
Greece was an example of how an economically insignificant country can cause waves of panic in fragile indebted post-2008 economies. How much more so when the capital of the third largest economy, one VITAL to Western interests is seriously damaged for a prolonged period?
Osaka contributes more to exports? How is this possible when Tokyo/Yokohama is by far Japans largest port in aggregate? They may be manufactured outside Tokyo but most are shipped via Tokyo Bay.
In the end, a Tokyo quake would not be so bad but for the extremely fragile state of Western economies. That’s why a large quake in Tokyo will have world wide consequences.
As for this ‘talking it up for cheap thrills and subsequent mutual back-slapping about what a bunch of crazy horses all us Tokyo expats are’. This is pure fantasy on your part, and rather pathetic.
Well now. You do talk a good talk about earthquakes. I can wager that not many of us will have spent enough time on wikipedia to have assembled top 10 lists of Japanese seismologists. But as I think you will admit yourself, earthquake prediction is still way beyond the ken of human knowledge, and that 70% chance estimate is a total stab in the dark from an organization whose effectiveness at predicting earthquakes on a scale of 0-10 is somewhere in the low minuses.
On all of your points re: economics (particularly ‘Where else would they get the money from?’) alarm bells re: your understanding of international trade and finance are ringing to the extent that I doubt I have the time to lead your mule of comprehension around the racecourse of enlightenment, particularly since it is currently facing backwards in the stalls. As a starting point which you can then hopefully pursue in your own time, the Japanese government has the lowest borrowing costs in the world (which actually got lower during the last earthquake, despite widespread awareness of the reconstruction costs). This is not some temporary thing but a function of the financial system, whereby banks hold close to 40% of Japanese GDP with the central bank, earning 0% interest. If you are able to borrow at 1% interest then it is unlikely that you would want to obtain cash by selling your forex reserves (which earn a little under 2% interest), particularly during a time of concern re: your currency. As another hint, why do you think they didn’t sell down their USTs to pay for the last disaster? The Greece comparison sadly remains rather egregious bullshit which makes as much sense as hitting yourself in the kneecap with a sand wedge to celebrate your half-birthday. If you think that a non-Eurozone default by a country the size of Greece would make any difference to world affairs whatsoever then you are, respectfully sir, ‘shrooming.
Your statement on the Japanese mittelstand who own the patents on unique and crucial isomers or construct special screws without which global toaster production would grind to a halt is correct, however those are notoriously the businesses which are not concentrated in Tokyo. They are dotted around all over the place. Presumably they can be shipped from other ports. Getting them out the country is unlikely to be the troublesome bit.
The fire argument may be true but to my understanding – I am sure you will correct me if this is not so – the towns around Tohoku that were not hit by the Tsunami (ie were slightly inland) did not suffer fire damage, despite being hit by a very very big earthquake.
I don’t mean to knock your article senseless because I think your perspective is basically reasonable, just wrong in places and a bit shrill. Clearly a big earthquake would fuck shit up around here plenty. I just don’t think it’s a, hrrrm, ‘imminent mega quake’. So sue me when you’re stuck under the rubble of a 3rd rate kabakura, sheltering in the space created by an overturned velour circular sofa, being forced to consume your own faeces to survive. I’ll be contactable via the guardian comments page.
You had me at “consume your own faeces to survive.” Smooth talker, you.
You are the most condescending arsehole I’ve come across in quite a while. Thank God I don’t ever have to meet you.
Well, believe what you want but financial experts disagree with you. Of course they are still only opinions, as are yours.
First from Bloomberg: “Japanese investors will repatriate funds as the nation seeks to recover from its strongest earthquake on record, said Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer at Pacific Investment Management Co”. This after the Mar11 quake. In that case it didn’t happen, but Japan is now financially strapped. As in minus $500 billion yen with a rapidly aging society.
From Barrons: A major Japanese earthquake long has been a fear for the U.S. bond market. Japan is the second-largest holder of Treasury securities, with $882 billion at the end of 2010, following China’s $1.16 trillion, according to U.S. Treasury data. Japan incurred huge costs from the 1995 Kobe quake.
From Financial planning corporation: “The fear is that Japan will have to sell a chunk of its considerable holding in US Bonds to repatriate funds to the home front. This could trigger a slide in US Bonds and provoke rocky times for the world’s stock markets.”
And finally: The estimated costs of cleaning up from a “big” Tokyo earthquake have been estimated at up to $1.45 trillion, around a third of Japan’s GDP.
These are quick cn’ps as I can’t be arsed doing more in reply to someone who accuses me of getting my data from Wikipedia. In fact I have, if anything, too many sources, collected diligently over a year and a half, some longer.
What is it about British males? The worlds superior doormats.
Well sir. You have me good and proper with your diverse range of internet news portals – sources, as you so refer to them – and your incisive ability to quote other people, call people rude names and sagely point out to them that your country is better than theirs. I yield to this crushing logic. Please do keep us informed about that book launch.
Honestly, it is best to get acclimatized to the idea of consuming your own faeces before it becomes really necessary. Let the idea seep in a little and you’ll see it’s not so bad after all.
You sound as a man who speaks from much experience, with faeces. I will consider your wisdom. thank you.
No answer to the opinion of Bloomberg and Barrons re Japan repatriating its US bonds? Make snide remarks about the messenger instead and hope that no one notices. Nice try little doormat, but FAIL
“Nice try little dormat, but FAIL”
I give up. You take it. I think we’re no longer having a two-way exchange of views. You’ll have the last laugh. My house is made of something like cardboard anyway. You’ll still be on the guardian comments section when I’m a fucking goner.
Hey “the idler of march”, your first post had an arrogant tone, you provided no sources to back up your ‘facts’ and you were first to throw insults. Are you angry at your mother or something?
Why don’t you head over to Cracked, the lastest Gladstone article was about you.
As for the mega earthquake, my solution is a no-brainer. Duck and cover.
Mega Earthquake? I just scream P-A-R-K-O-U-R! And I’m out the window.