For in-depth coverage of the earthquake histories of Taiwan and Japan and the role of museums in reconstruction work, visit the "In the Same Seismic Zone” exhibition running at Tainan's National Museum of Taiwan History from June 27 through Dec. 3.
In early human civilization, the occurrence of earthquakes were often attributed to activity regarding large animals, gods, giants, or world pillars. Japanese mythology spoke of divine action, whereas Taiwan's ethnic diversity gave rise to an eclectic mix of earthquake legends, all of which point to the frequency of such tremors since the dawn of Taiwan.
Accurate records first appeared at the turn of the 17th century, in which nearly ten large earthquakes - most of which struck areas south of Taichung - caused widespread death and destruction in Taiwan. Japan, with its denser population, also suffered more than 20 large earthquakes since recordkeeping began.
During the 50 years of Japan's colonial rule over Taiwan, the two most devastating incidents were the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake - a 7.9-magnitude tremor that killed over 100,000 people by fire, rubble, and tsunami in Japan - and the 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake, known as the deadliest in Taiwan's recorded history for over 3,000 deaths.
Post-earthquake guidelines were established for governance, reconstruction, and safeguarding against false rumors under imperial rule. However, by the 1990s, the 7.9-magnitude Jiji Earthquake revealed the need to transform the postwar rescue system through new efforts to provide mutual support among disaster victims, reconstruction through community work, and the establishment of private volunteer systems.
Particular attention was paid not only to reconstructing and strengthening mental health and identity, but to rescuing and preserving cultural heritage in the aftermath of such disasters. Among the earthquake measures that were adopted after the 1990s, both regions have strived for the rebuilding of regional relations and the participation of non-governmental organizations.
Today, both the public and private sector no longer focus only on material reconstruction. From the rescue and preservation of local cultural heritage to the inclusion of non-designated cultural assets, such as everyday objects and personal memorabilia, museums will continue to play a larger role in post-quake restoration and the preservation of national memories.
‘In the Same Seismic Zone: Earthquake Disasters of Taiwan and Japan in History'