O. M. G. This has got to be one of the most terrifying books I have ever read, and I am sure, even more so than
when it was written, knowing all we do now about the looming planet-wide catastrophe. Back in 1973, I am sure it was received more as a "disaster
novel,"—something upon which one ponders as a possibility in the very distant future, but nothing to worry about in our lifetime. NOT SO NOW!
Since then Japan has suffered through two major disasters, one in 1995—the earthquake
at Osaka-Kobe, and the ongoing and globally catastrophic earthquake in 2011 at Tōhoku which devastated the Fukushima nuclear power plants and
continues to pour radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean with no end in sight.
This is part of Dover Publications' "Doomsday Classics" series, of which, as of this writing, consists of only seven books including this. I expect there will be more. Five of them I own as eBooks from Project Gutenberg, and the last plus this one I own as books I purchased from Dover. This extraordinary company has been around since 1941, founded by Hayward and Blanche Cirker, and I've been buying from them since I was a kid. They specialized in low-cost republications of classics, rare books, and interesting books that were no longer available and out of copyright. Over the years they branched out, and after Cirker died in 2000, they were sold to their printer, Courier, Corporation, then R.R. Donnelley in 2015, which split into three in 2016. They are now part of LSC Communications. With all these changes, there have been some negative points, and many more positive ones, such as the fact that they are publishing more and more "modern" books such as this that still are under copyright, and so they are not available as free eBooks yet. So I buy 'em up when on sale. I bought this one a few weeks ago, in March, 2019, with a $50 coupon! Yes . . . . So my point is, if you are a voracious reader of a wide range of books, please follow this company. And I hope they add more to their "Doomsday Classics" category.
This particular edition is the 1976 translation into English by Michael Gallagher. I have had a difficult time finding background material, and what I am finding conflicts. Goodreads, from whom I usually find beneficial material, has the title listed as Japan Sinks: A Novel About Earthquakes. OM MY, NO! It is NOT. Yeah, there are some earthquakes but that is NOT what the story is about, and I'm not sure where they got that title. A comment on Amazon's page says the novel was originally 800 pages, so this version is much abridged! I really question that comment. It says that the 1976 publication went out of print, then was reissued in 1995. Well, I don't believe that is quite right either. According to Wikipedia, the 1995, "Komatsu published a second abridged edition." Dover specifies that their edition is a reprint of the original 1976 translation And so, there is lots of confusion. The Dover edition is 184 pages, not the 224 of the other edition, but one of Dover's charms is that they are able to squeeze a lot more words on their pages—some sort of magic, I guess, making their editions less pages and cheaper.
Unfortunately, the Wikipedia page supplies only three paragraphs, plus two more sentences about this book and related materials. As might be expected, it was made into movies and a TV show, plus a parody called World Sinks Except Japan. Hmmm. OK . . . .
One of the Amazon comments mentions that Komatsu died shortly after the Fukushima disaster. He won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1974, for "Best Work"of that year, and the Seiun Award for "the best science fiction works and achievements during the preceding year." On this page it is listed as the "Best Japanese Short Story" of 1974, so I seriously doubt the comment above about the original being 800 pages! The name of the book in Japanese is Nihon Chinbotsu, and Komatsu took nine years to complete it.
In addition to the Fukushima disaster, the other major earthquake since the book was written was the Osaka-Kobe, in 1995, where 6,434 people died. Interestingly, this was one of the first areas devastated in the novel. 15,897 people were killed in the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, which most people recognize as "Fukushima."
But, as I said earlier, this book is NOT about earthquakes. It is about a complete shifting of the earth's crust beneath the sea. In the story, volcanoes are erupting and just as deadly as the earthquakes. But even more important is the fact that the undersea ridge that is beneath the entire set of islands is shifting, sinking, and breaking the land above it apart, which is the cause of all the other instabilities. In addition to that, there is the socio/political aspect. One gets a very clear image of the mindset of modern Japanese people, (which is based on tradition), from the viewpoint of a Japanese man. The only other book I have read to this date that has given me such an impression was Michael Crichton's Rising Sun, and that was a very bad impression, too, written from the viewpoint of an American.
But what makes this story so terrifying is that, for those of us who are completely aware of the unfolding climate and geological disasters, it is like a preview of what is to come. I couldn't help but wonder if all we hear about the rising sea levels isn't in reality a sinking of the land masses. What about all those sinkholes that seem to be showing up everywhere? My mother always used to say that this farm was sinking and she was right. What used to be firm level ground has sunk into little hills and valleys, which I've blamed on the incessant rain we've had for so many years, but maybe not. And of course, there is the ever-increasing threat of methane release in the oceans, which, as they accelerate would cause explosions, I would imagine. And so the novel began to sound all too familiar. And then there is the government's secrecy, which perhaps if they had been less so, more people could have escaped. In the case of the novel, it was an attempt to avoid panic, but in real life, I think it has more to do with extending the period of power and greed for those in charge.
And so now, having said all that, I will supply a brief synopsis of part of the book, although I do not want to give it away, because I want you to read it and be surprised (and terrorized!). And believe me it is a thriller you cannot put down. It begins with a very state-of-the-art submarine, the Wadatsumi, going to investigate a strange occurrence: while on a fishing trip, the crew of the Suiten Maru witnessed one of the small islands east of the Japanese Trench just disappear over night. (This edition has a very useful map in the front.) They rescued the Polynesian fishermen who had been stranded on the island, and one of the Japanese spoke a little Polynesian, so he was able to help with the interview. The Marine Security patrol boat, the Hokuto carries the Wadatsumi to its destination, joined by the Weather Service ship, the Daito Maru. Among the crew is Onodera, from Sea Floor Development, who becomes the main character, along with Professor Yukinaga, a marine geologist and Professor Tadokoro, and it is he who has been doing the intense research, and knows what is coming. Through the research and technology at hand, soon a small group of people learn of the devastating fate of their beloved country. It is on this first trip down to the extreme depths of the Japan Trench, off eastern Japan, that the scientists discover something is very amiss on the sea floor.
The book skips around as to location, and we next meet up with Onodera, as his boss takes him to a bar and gets him drunk. They then head off to another party on Sagami Bay, where he meets the owner of the villa, Reiko Abe. She, who is also drunk, seduces him to take a swim. They end up on a beach away from the party where they have sex. Shortly after, the first of the volcanic eruptions takes place. There are only a couple diversions from the business at hand in this book, and this one is important. And awkward.
As mentioned above, it is really Tadokoro who knows the truth about what is going on. He is sort of the Dane Wigington of the sea floor, and just as Dane knows more about the climate engineering disaster than anyone else in the world, here Tadokoro is the one who can see the future situation as no one else. And, as Dane, he has little confidence in the government to grasp the magnitude of the problem. One point that is made throughout the book, however, which makes Tadokoro different than Dane and most of the other characters in the story is that he relies a great deal upon intuition. I would imagine a less modern Japan with its Buddhist/Zen history would have made much more use of this mind-tool. In this important scene, Onodera wants Tadokoro to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister.
"Bureaucrats!" said Tadokoro as though vomiting out the word. "The same old story. They say they want to consult a wide range of people, but the truth of the matter is that all they're interested in doing is setting up a serene consensus utterly devoid of anything resembling insight. Since their abiding desire is to avoid risk, they shrink from any venture that might entail it, and so they have no way of grasping the shape of things to come."
How familiar is THAT? And so Yukinaga asks him point blank to attend, and his response, again, sounds frighteningly familiar.
"And suppose I join them in the bureaucrats' lair—what then? First of all we'll be talking to people who don't know the first thing about science. And my colleagues, since they depend upon the bureaucrats for patronage, will be bending over backwards so as not to disturb anybody. And then, finally, who are these scientists anyways? They're all splendid fellows. Each is tops in his field, but there's not one of them who knows much of significance outside of it. This damned compartmentalization! Nobody knows how to draw the big picture, and they gang up on anybody who dares to try."
Same old, same old, no matter what country. I wrote an article on
in the military, by the way. Anyways, he does
end up going to the meeting, so at least something was said that was "unexpected"—that is, that Japan was sinking into the ocean, although
the others thought he was out of his mind. However, something interesting now happens. An extremely withered centenarian in a wheelchair named Watari (please
note—there is a dearth of first names in this novel!), who is very wealthy and influential, and knew Tadokoro's father, requests a visit from the son.
Tadokoro is summoned and responds without knowing why. They chat a while, and Watari notes the
strange behavior of birds and fish, and totally believes Tadokoro's research is correct. It is Watari who gets Tadokoro an audience with the Prime Minister,
and his ultimate support.
However, the geological changes are just moving way too fast now. One of the most terrifying scenes is the huge quake that strikes Tokyo. Here in Northeast Ohio, we really have little conception of what it must be like to suffer through an earthquake. The description given here is horrific. At this point, Japan seems to be falling apart at the seams—an eruption here, a quake there. And the computer model verifies the absolute worst fears of the team of scientists involved. Japan is, in fact, not only being pushed eastward and being broken up, but it is sinking, and fast. At this point all that can be done is to expedite an evacuation plan for the over 110 million residents.
Much of the second half of the book concerns politics and relationship with other countries. The sad fact of the situation is that Japan must now arrange with other countries a plan to allow huge numbers of Japanese citizens as immigrants—painful for such a proud and independent nation. That is all I will say on the story line itself, but here are a few more quotes. One other point I want to make, and a point implied in the novel is that, all the problems in dealing with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were magnified greatly because of the immense overpopulation and industrialization of this relatively tiny country. The infrastructure collapses—traffic cannot move and the scene becomes one of being trapped. Everything is slowed down, and worsens when the evacuations begins. For the ignorant people out there who still believe it is OK to have as many babies as you want, you might want to rethink that stupidity. Not that people would not be killed wherever an earthquake, (or tornado, tsunami, volcano, etc. hits), but the less dense the population the faster people can escape. Where there is not a network of trains and busses and vehicles to clog everything up, legs work just fine for most people.
Here is a quote that is SO relevant for today, as those in TOTAL ignorance continue to debate the present climate issue. (THERE IS NO DEBATE—WE ARE UP SHIT CREEK WITHOUT A PADDLE.)
"I suppose we've all wondered that." said Nakata. He paused for a moment. "I'm afraid it's really going to happen."
"Well, if so . . . what then? There are a hundred million Japanese, you know." [Please keep in mind this was written way back in 1973. The current population of Japan is 126,931,402, as of April 7, 2019.]
"Most of them might die," said Nakata. "And why? Precisely because nobody is going to believe that such a thing could happen. We ourselves are of two minds, and we're up to our neck in it. And in the midst of the will-it-or-will-it-not, maybe-so-maybe-no debate, time is slipping away. And the longer the delay, the greater number of those who will die."
And here is a quote by the old man, Watari, who, like Dane Wigington and most of his activists, are acutely aware of the behavior of nature, and use that as a gauge for the sorry state of the planet.
"That's right. Every bush is blooming with wild profusion. It seems to me, Professor, that nature is running wild in all sorts of ways in Japan this fall. A scientist looks at this, and perhaps it strikes him as not too significant. But as for me, I have lived with nature for one hundred years, and I can't escape the feeling that nature in Japan—plants and trees and birds and insects and fishes—all alike have grown fearful and have lost their composure."
And here is another quote as Onodera is thinking to himself. This whole idea of panic when the population learns the truth is fueling more preposterous lies from our current government and military.
Suppose, he thought, suppose these people, who, on the one hand, have no definite information but who, on the other, are becoming ever more perceptive in the way they feel . . .suppose they learned of this thing, this thing which now stands a better than fifty-percent chance of occurring . . . what would happen? Would a great panic break out.
Of course, in the story, the actual chance of the disaster occurring was one hundred percent—they just
didn't know it then. And that same for us who are fighting the climate engineering issue. As Dane says, he is sick of hearing "could, may,
might." IT IS ALREADY HAPPENING!
This book really covers many aspects of catastrophe, and, as we are experiencing now, there were those in politics and banking that still were thinking about how they could profit. Of course, the whole military presence in the area, and the impending loss of it was also an issue. The point is, the entire mental and physical energy should have been about carrying out a massive and rapid evacuation of Japanese citizens. Period.
In the end, as Tadokoro and Watari remain together in Japan to face imminent death Tadokoro sobs for the country he has loved so much.
Tadokoro raised his face, still streaked with tears, and gazed up at the somber sky. "It's not as though we were a race that came from somewhere else to these four islands. We were formed here, and we've become one with this land—with these mountains, these rivers, these cities and villages, these monuments left by our ancestors. Once these have all been destroyed, what meaning could there be in being Japanese?
And that is something we will all have to face very soon. The difference now is, the present looming
catastrophe has been deliberately manipulated by evil and greedy, rich and power-hungry people, and can be halted by disclosure of their evil deeds. Have
we reached the point of no return? I cannot imagine saying goodbye to my beloved Ohio, and even worse, my beloved Earth. How could anyone who has a
heart and soul stand by and let the only planet we have be destroyed?
I cannot tell you how highly I recommend reading this book. It speaks volumes for the past, present and future. If you don't want to buy it, I'm sure you can borrow it from a library.
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