A Historical Overview of Social Representation of Earthquake Risk in Japan: Fatalism, Social Reform, Scientific Control and Collaborative Risk Management

  • Katsuya Yamori
Part of the Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research book series (NTHR, volume 33)


The historical development of social representations of earthquake risk in Japan can be summarised in terms of four stages: fatalism (before the eighteenth century), social reform (from the mid-nineteenth century), scientific control (after World War II) and collaborative risk management (after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995). This evolution is not a linear, chronological movement through these modes of representation. Rather, these four basic styles of risk representation create a multilayered structure, allowing two or more types of risk representation to coexist. In Japanese society since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, in particular, these four types of social representation of earthquake risk have developed into a complicated mixture. Seismologists have publicly referred to the ‘failure of earthquake sciences’, and criticism from society is increasing in regard to the ineffectiveness of safety measures regarding nuclear power plants. Thus, confidence in scientific control, which previously had been trusted and relied upon, is greatly shaken. Concurrent with this declining trust in science, vernacular science knowledge regarding disaster and disaster prevention is being disseminated at much higher rates to society at large, and the line separating such vernacular knowledge, older traditional views and ‘pure’ scientific knowledge is being blurred. Hence, a growing trend towards cognitive polyphasia (Moscovici 1976) is apparent. Furthermore, because widespread damage occurred in spite of the mutual cooperation of residents of local communities at the time of the emergency tsunami evacuation, the limits of collaborative risk management, which came into prominence after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, have been quickly indicated. Meanwhile, through statements such as that by a prominent politician claiming that “this disaster is divine punishment for our selfishness”, and arguments that the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 should represent a great turning point for an economically and politically stagnant Japanese society, it has become evident that old risk representation styles such as fatalism and social reform also remain firmly entrenched.


Social Representation Earthquake Damage Social Reform Earthquake Risk Japan Trench 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Disaster Prevention Research InstituteKyoto UniversityUjiJapan

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