Tsunami Stones: The Ancient Warnings of Japan

What are tsunami stones and why you should know about them
There is a phenomenon called “tsunami stones” found along coastlines in Japan. These large rocks were placed centuries ago to warn future generations of the destructive power of tsunamis, serving as eerie reminders of past disasters.


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For those in a hurry

  • Tsunami stones are stone slabs that warn of past and future tsunamis along Japan’s coast.
  • They date back to more than 600 years ago and some mark the highest point of a tsunami’s reach.
  • They have inscriptions that tell stories of past disasters, death tolls, or advice for survivors.
  • Some villages, like Aneyoshi, followed the tsunami stones’ warnings and moved uphill, saving them from later tsunamis.
  • Tsunami stones are reminders of the power of nature and the importance of learning from history.

What are tsunami stones?

If you ever visit Japan’s northeastern coast, you might notice some strange stone slabs standing near the shore. These are not ordinary rocks, but ancient warnings of the destructive power of tsunamis. They are called tsunami stones and they dot the coastline, telling stories of past and future disasters.

Tsunami stones are stone monuments that were erected by survivors of previous tsunamis, usually after a major one that caused a lot of damage and deaths. They range in height from 2 feet to 10 feet tall and have inscriptions that vary in content and clarity. Some act as memorials, giving death tolls from past tsunamis or marking mass graves of the victims. Others offer more direct advice, such as “Do not build any homes below this point” or “Choose life over your possessions and valuables”.

The oldest tsunami stones date back to more than 600 years ago, when Japan experienced some of the worst tsunamis in history. The most recent ones were placed after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which killed nearly 16,000 people and triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Why are they important?

Tsunami stones are important because they serve as reminders of the devastating impact of tsunamis and the need to prepare for them. Japan is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that can trigger massive waves. Tsunamis can strike with little warning and cause widespread destruction, especially in coastal areas.

Tsunami stones are also important because they show how people learned from their experiences and tried to pass on their wisdom to future generations. They are examples of how humans cope with natural disasters and try to prevent them from happening again. They are also symbols of resilience and hope, as some communities rebuilt their lives after losing everything.

One particularly well-documented tsunami stone stands in the village of Aneyoshi on Japan’s northeastern coast. Aneyoshi had endured two devastating tsunamis, one in 1896 and another in 1933. The stone was placed shortly after the 1933 tsunami, a four-foot-high marker located just above the tsunami’s highest reach. It reads: “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”

When the stone was placed, the remaining residents of Aneyoshi—there were only four—moved uphill for good. Heeding the advice of the tsunami stone, they moved above the reach of the last tsunami, which undoubtedly saved them from being devastated once again in the tsunamis of 1960 and 2011.

How can we learn from tsunami stones?

Tsunami stones are not only historical artifacts, but also valuable lessons for today. They teach us that we should respect nature and its forces, and not underestimate its potential for harm. They also teach us that we should be prepared for emergencies and have contingency plans in case of disasters. They also teach us that we should listen to our ancestors and learn from their mistakes.

Tsunami stones are not only relevant for Japan, but for any place that faces the risk of tsunamis or other natural hazards. They remind us that we are not invincible and that we need to be aware of our surroundings and our environment. They also remind us that we are not alone and that we can help each other in times of crisis.

Tsunami stones are more than just rocks. They are stories, warnings, and guides for living in harmony with nature.