Gallery: Despite Major Earthquake Zero Tokyo Buildings Collapsed Thanks...

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Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, but this morning’s incident was nothing like the country had ever seen before. Registering at a record breaking magnitude 8.9, the earthquake even triggered a staggering 33 foot tsunami which swept away boats, cars, homes and people as widespread fires burned out of control. While there is no question that the devastation has been massive – the situation could have been worse. Given the country’s past experience with these life-threatening tremors, Japan boasts one of the most well-thought out building codes in the world. With a system that underscores the importance of smart design and preventative measures, millions of lives may very well have been spared.

From seawalls that line stretches of Japan’s coastline, to skyscrapers that sway to absorb earthquakes, to unrelenting building codes, there is no other country better prepared for an earthquake than Japan. Over the years, the country has invested billions of dollars developing new technology to aid in protecting their citizens and infrastructure against earthquakes and tsunamis.

Buildings in the country have been built to be earthquake proof, and construction focuses on deep foundation and massive shock absorbers to dampen seismic energy in the event of an earthquake. Another method that is often employed in construction is to create a base for the building that would allow it to move semi-independently from the total structure, in turn reducing the shaking caused by a quake. As seen in the video taken above by an onlooker in the neighborhood of Shinjuku, while the buildings sway, they do not collapse. In fact, not one building in Tokyo fell despite the record breaking magnitude – a true testament to the level of engineering involved in the construction of their structures.

Photo: Justin Cozart

In addition to building codes, Japan is adamant about educating their citizens on preparedness. Along with a high-tech tsunami early-warning system, Japan’s coastal communities regularly practice drills, and every residence is equipped with emergency alarms that are triggered by quake sensors. Moreover, all throughout the country, immediately after an earthquake strikes in Japan, all television and radio stations must switch to official earthquake coverage to provide thorough information of public of risks, including tsunamis, to enable people to retreat to higher ground or, if on the coast, purpose-built tsunami defense bunkers. And for those who may find themselves in offices or private homes, it is not unlikely that an earthquake emergency kit will be nearby, including dry rations, drinking water, and basic medical supplies. Offices and schools are also required to keep hard-hats and gloves on hand for use in the event of a quake.


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  1. Clarketom July 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    My point concerning distance from the epicenter was to merely point out that Tokyo didn’t feel 9.0 but felt 5.2. So on that point we agree. However, you are factually incorrect concerning the richter scale. 5.2 is considered a moderate earthquake not a “Major”, as the title reads. Los Angeles experienced a 5.5 three years ago 2.5 miles outside the city. They caught the brunt of 5.5, and no the city did not come crashing down. Christchurch experienced 7.1 that did severe damage but did not destroy the city. A 9.0 earthquake is 1000 times more powerful than a 7.0
    I take nothing away from Japanese engineering or their building codes they have saved countless lives. I’m no engineer but a metropolitan area experiencing a direct 9.0 earthquake would be devasted.
    I only commented on this story because I hate sensational stories written by lazy writers. Tokyo did not experience a major earthquake and because of that fact zero buildings collapsed. When Tokyo endures an 8+ and survives intact then this story is relevant.

  2. jstream July 16, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    clarketom, it doesn’t matter how far or close Tokyo was to the epicenter. The matter of fact is the earthquake measured 5.2 on the Richter scale there. That’s enough to send most earthquake prone cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Christchurch come crashing down. An 8.9 under Tokyo would most definitely cause some buildings there to collapse but it most likely will not flatten the city or come anywhere close to it. The evidence speaks for itself – forward planning and dedicated government investment into safe infrastructure saves lives!

  3. Tokyobling April 25, 2011 at 3:32 am


    I beg to disagree. I was up in Tohoku, as close to the epicentre as possible on mainland Honshu (the main island of Japan) and I could see, literally, with my own two eyes, not one single fully collapsed building younger than 65 years in all of the town, villages, cities that I have visited during/after the earthquakes.

    Each earthquake is different, I know that, but it is very far fetched to imagine that there would be massive damage to Tokyo if a similar earthquake occured at a similar distance to Tokyo as the epicentre in Tohoku.

    Tokyo was not shutdown for 24 hours. Trains stopped running between 14:46 and about 23:00-24:00 at night, that is a mere few hours. Tokyo was back to normal on Day 2, except for disruptions in electric supply limiting the use of some train lines.

    Indeed a similar tsunami hitting Tokyo would be devastating, but rest assured a tsunami of that size is just not possible inside the relatively shielded Tokyo bay. In fact, there are no recorded instances of any similar sized tsunami hitting the Tokyo bay areal, while there are several recorded instances of similar tsunami striking Tohoku, Hokkaido, Kanagawa (the southern part) etc. etc.

    Best regards, Tokyobling

  4. chrisbowd March 21, 2011 at 12:10 am

    I agree with clarketom.
    I have lived in Japan for 19 years. Yes, it was the strongest earthquake in Tokyo during that time, but the magnituide in Tokyo (around 6+) was much lower than most new buildings (designed since the late 1990s) are designed for.
    You must consider that despite being so far from the epicenter, Tokyo was pretty much shutdown for 24 hours and is only now (11 days later) getting back to normal.
    Had the quake happened south of Tokyo we would have been even more devastated because the population density in Tokyo is massively higher. Were the same tsunami to strike Chuo-ku, Chiyoda-ku and Minato-ku at the same time of a working day, the death toll would have been at least hundreds of thousands.

  5. A. Raouf El Hamwi March 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Though we are very sorry for lost lives, we very pleases to see Japanees designed buildings, that oassed the severe test of 8.9, Thanks to new Japanees building codes.
    Eng. A. Raouf El Hamwi

  6. clarketom March 14, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I want to write for Inhabitat, so I can post ridiculous stories on how zero buildings fell in Tokyo because of engineering.
    Tokyo buildings didn’t fall because Tokyo is 230 miles south of the actual epicenter. It’s akin to saying that zero buildings fell in Las Vegas from an earthquake in LA. That magnitude under Tokyo would have leveled the city, building codes or not.
    You could have written a piece explaining what engineers have done to minimize earthquake damage in their designs in Japan. Your headline and story is typical sensationalistic shit journalism. Tokyo didn’t get hit by a major earthquake it felt a major earthquake.

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