Monday, January 30, 2012

Anxiety and inattention over Tokyo's next Big One

Last week, the possibility of a new political party being formed under the leadership of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara emerged, but Tokyoites were more shocked by news indicating there was a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 7-level earthquake hitting the capital within four years.

The news caused a stir because it was based on projections by the authoritative Earthquake Research Institute (ERI) at the University of Tokyo. I visited professor Naoshi Hirata, 57, director of the institute's Earthquake Prediction Research Center, thinking the institute's announcement daring. But I soon learned that this figure was not an "announcement." The episode is very interesting.

An initial report on the likelihood of a major quake appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun's Jan. 23 morning editions. In a front-page exclusive, the daily reported the news with the banner headline: "70% chance of magnitude-7 level Tokyo earthquake within 4 yrs.'' The Nikkei, The Tokyo Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun followed suit in their evening editions and The Asahi Shimbun and The Sankei Shimbun caught up with them in their Jan. 24 editions. All trailing dailies had almost identical headlines. Read More