E1591e - The Great Disaster and Legacies of Sakyo Komatsu

The original article published in Japanese ( http://current.ndl.go.jp/e1591 )

Current Awareness-E No.264

7 August, 2014


        The Great Disaster and Legacies of Sakyo Komatsu


On June 21, 2014, more than 100 people participated in a talk event titled “Legacies of Sakyo Komatsu: Memories of the Disaster and Words for the Future" at Miyagi Prefectural Library. Eleven months after the disaster, Miyagi Prefectural Library had hosted a special exhibition that introduced records of the disaster, which became the origin of its collection on the Great East Japan Earthquake. Ever since then, the library has continued to host special exhibitions on assistance to disaster relief, paths to reconstruction, and on carrying on the tradition of disaster records. This talk event was held in relation to the library’s fourth exhibition on collection on the Great East Japan Earthquake that presented the trace of Sakyo Komatsu, a science-fictionist who had made recommendations on disaster records while gathering information on the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995. Speakers included Hideaki Sena (Writer), Suiryo Maruyama (Professor of Tohoku University and a Writer), and Junko Otobe (former manager of Komatsu). While referring to efforts of Komatsu, panelists discussed about archives in which disaster experiences are utilized for disaster prevention and mitigation.

In opening the talk session, Otobe introduced Komatsu’s success as a cartoonist before his debut as a novelist. It was only recently that Komatsu’s “illusory debut manga” titled “Phantom Doctor Skeleton (怪人スケレトン博士)” was found. Created during Komatsu’s high school years (number three high school in Japanese old-education system), this manga was found by his fan in the digital collection of National Diet Library. Otobe pointed out that with the discovery of this manga, whose plot is in preventing a devil that attempts to sink Japan with a weapon of earthquake, we find that Komatsu already had the idea leading to “Japan Sinks (日本沈没)” at this time.

Sena praised Komatsu for expanding the framework of science-fictionists’ activities by developing a big picture of an issue from detailed interviews to experts and by approaching the society. Not only did Komatsu write science fictions, but also reportages of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, and advocated what he called “comprehensive disaster prevention studies (総合防災学).” Referring to his own experience of gathering information about the influenza pandemic in 2009, Sena pointed out that human beings cannot imagine disasters well unless we “experience” it, even if the nature of a disaster is such that it can be prevented with a bit of imagination. Therefore, in order to talk about disasters to people, writers not only need to provide professional explanations on individual phenomenon, but also write a story with a big picture of the disaster as well as flows of human minds. Experts and writers are still unclear about how to deal with a large volume of information recorded on a real-time basis with the spread of information instruments. Sena showed his expectation that in order to utilize these information in the future, we need to record in archives both physical phenomena of disasters and human behaviors.

Referring to the exhibit of a calculator that Komatsu used when writing “Japan Sinks (日本沈没),” Maruyama praised Komatsu for his ability to conduct physical calculation , such as stress, taking advantage of the most leading-edge machines at the time. Maruyama also praised Komatsu for developing a novel that presents scientific theories in a way that people can understand easily. Maruyama also pointed out that the situation of nuclear accident in Komatsu’s novel is quite similar to “The Yoshida Testimony (吉田調書)”, released recently on the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Maruyama stated that inference of physical phenomena is possible with accurate data. He also pointed at that data becomes valuable only after they are compiled in an archive that people can search from around the world. He further reported that International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS) has been established in Tohoku University to conduct long-term disaster studies. IRIDeS is the first research institute established in forty years as a research center attached to a national university. Maruyama also mentioned that Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization has began a three-generation cohort survey for evidence-based medicine. Maruyama showed his expection for future developments, referring to the fact that research dealing with big data of large volume of images recorded during the disaster has only begun, and that the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction is to be held in Sendai in March 2015.

Lastly, Otobe highlighted the importance of utilizing massive volume of real-time data recorded by individuals in this disaster for preparedness and mitigation in future disasters. She asked individuals who experienced the disaster to preserve records for the future.

In an interview on May 11, immeditely after the disaster, Komatsu referred to the fact that radio shows began in response to the chaos following the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, leading to today’s broadcasts. Showing his expectation towards establishment of “comprehensive disaster prevention studies (総合防災学)”, Komatsu made the following remarks.

“Listen to me, here’s what a science-fictionist has to say. I want a super-interdisciplinary research structure that we might call “comprehensive disaster prevention studies (総合防災学)”……There should be a large volume of records from “mega-natural disasters” that struck not only Japan but modern world across the globe. It shouldn’t be that difficult to download those records through things like the Internet and pool them as a common “intellectual resource” for all human kinds.”

Komatsu passed away on July 26, 2011. His legacy “comprehensive disaster prevention studies (総合防災学)” should not be understood as a science-fiction. Rather, I expect Komatsu’s vision to expand as our infrastructure in the next hundred years, just as today’s “broadcast” did.

“Japan is now the only country that has suffered from a full set of radiation damage, beginning from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Daigo Fukuryu Maru (S.S. Lucky Dragon No. 5). Japan needs to take on the key role. ”

As Komatsu pointed out, Japan has had such experiences. Japan has the responsibility to pass on lessons learned to future generations.


Written by Takashi Magome
Miyagi Prefectural Library

Translated by Okada Aya

Sena, Hideaki, and Suzuki, Yasuo. (2009). Influenza 21th Century(インフルエンザ21世紀). Bungei Shunju(文藝春秋), p.500.
Komatsu, Sakyo and Hayashi, Akira (2011). Narrative of Wise Men or Big Mouth of Sakyo Komatsu 9 “How about ‘a National Framework for Disaster Prevention’?(賢人談話,あるいは小松左京の大口舌9“災害防衛国家構想てどやろ?”)” Komatsu Sakyo Magazine(小松左京マガジン), Vol.42, pp.64-69.