While earthquakes and tsunamis are natural phenomena, their impacts on humans include those of a social nature. In Meiji Japan, the meaning of disasters formed in the context of “modernization,” whose standard was European civilization, and was transformed in the matrices of international as well as domestic politics. In this context, this essay sketches out how discourses on science, state, and civilization interacted with disasters, particularly earthquakes and tsunamis. It should be noted that the Yokohama Earthquake of 1880 triggered scientific interest in seismicity. Although this earthquake’s damage was not catastrophic, since the European community and structures in the treaty port were more sensitive than Japanese varieties, foreign scientists discovered earthquakes in Japan, then a geophysical blank, as a topic of scientific research. This interest by the Europeans led to the development of seismographs, which could depict the motion of the ground graphically. On the other hand, the Meiji government absorbed the knowledge and knowledge production systems of the European scientists within the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Imperial University. In the aftermath of the Great Nobi Earthquake of 1891, recognizing earthquakes as “a menace to the construction of a modern state,” the government organized the Imperial Earthquake Investigation Committee. When catastrophic tsunami waves devastated the Sanriku coasts in 1896, governmental organizations served as frameworks to investigate the “national crisis.” However, just as seismic and tidal waves transcend political borders, knowledge of earthquakes was crossing the geopolitical hierarchy of “civilization.” The 1890s already saw the emergence of a discourse, “Japan is an advanced country in the field of seismology,” and this notion subsequently resonated in the English-speaking scientific world. In the decade of the Russo-Japanese War and the Yellow Peril, this discourse served as a means to display Japan as a member of the civilized world. Nevertheless, such advanced science was not a strong enough influence to overturn the established racial order of the time.
2. 요코하마 지진(1880)과 서구 과학의 영향
3. 노비 지진(1891), 산리쿠 쓰나미(1896)와 메이지 국가
4. ‘문명’ 담론의 국제정치적 도구로서의 일본 지진학