Choosing a Home or Picking Your Natural Disaster?


When I first came to Japan, I looked around at all the concrete-covered hillsides and concrete riverbanks and thought, “Ugh. How hideous. Why would they do that? Surely that prevents rain soaking into the earth, leading to inundations.”

It was YEARS later that I read a tweet explaining that it was done to PREVENT disasters. (Erm… yes, my degree is in history so I really had no idea what I was talking about.) Since then, every time I see a concrete hillside or riverbank, I imagine what might happen without it—the hill coming down on the houses beneath; the riverside dissolving into the river during a typhoon and wiping out entire neighbourhoods.


My husband remembers such things happening right in Tokyo. When he was a kid, the Tama River blew past its banks and houses floated away. He’s also been around for an awful lot of landslide reports. Really, it’s no surprise that he flat-out refuses to live anywhere near a hillside.

I was reminded of all of this while researching an article today several weeks ago (sorry, blogtober…). I was up in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, for work, and for the article that goes along with the trip, I wanted to write a bit about the area. While confirming a few points, I came across a report on the Shinano River, which flows through the area. Apparently, the lower reaches of the river in the Echigo Plain (aka Niigata Plain) used to flood regularly, but since putting in diversion channels and all sorts of other infrastructure, the area has become known for its rice cultivation.

Shinano River, Foundation of River & Basin Integrated Communications Japan, page 25

The tidbit of info that really caught my eye was that over half of the deaths/disappearances that resulted from natural disasters between 1969 and 1999 (excluding the Southern Hyogo Earthquake of 1995) were due to sediment-related disasters. The nifty little pie-chart listed 27 percent for slope failure and 25 percent for debris flow and landslide.


Can’t say I’ve ever been fully comfortable living within metres of the beach in a tsunami danger area, but I gotta say, not living under a hill is really starting to feel good right now.

When you think about it, though, choosing where to live in Japan is really a pick-your-poison kind of thing. No matter where you are, some form of natural disaster is lurking in the shadows. My husband chose tsunami over landslide. I guess only time will tell if it was the right call.

Published by helenkamakura

Helen is a Canadian writer and innkeeper based in Kamakura, Japan, where she lives with her Japanese husband and two children. If money became obsolete, she would happily accept peaches, fresh peas, and sun-warmed cherry tomatoes in exchange for her labour.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: