Major Japanese Earthquakes of the 20th Century

Japan is situated in an archipelago where several continental and oceanic plates meet, causing frequent earthquakes which oftentimes trigger tsunamis. Many areas have experienced devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, including the worst earthquake in Japanese history, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which killed more than 140,000 people.¹ Another significant earthquake struck in 1995, the Kobe earthquake killed over 5,500 and injured 415,000 people; destroyed 100,000 homes completely and 185,000 partially.²

Table of Contents

Japanese Earthquakes Since 1900 With 1,000 or More Deaths
1.16.1995 City: Kobe Deaths: 5,502 Mag: 6.9 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
Five thousand five hundred two people confirmed killed, 36,896 injured and extensive damage (VII JMA) in the Kobe area and on Awaji-shima. Over 90 percent of the casualties occurred along the southern coast of Honshu between Kobe and Nishinomiya. At least 28 people were killed by a landslide at Nishinomiya. About 310,000 people were evacuated to temporary shelters. Over 200,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Numerous fires, gas and water main breaks and power outages occurred in the epicentral area. Felt (VII JMA) along a coastal strip extending from Suma Ward, Kobe to Nishinomiya and in the Ichinomiya area on Awaji-shima; (V JMA) at Hikone, Kyoto and Toyooka; (IV JMA) at Nara, Okayama, Osaka and Wakayama; (V) at Iwakuni. Also felt (IV JMA) at Takamatsu, Shikoku. Right-lateral surface faulting was observed for 9 kilometers with horizontal displacement of 1.2 to 1.5 meters in the northern part of Awaji-shima. Liquefaction also occurred in the epicentral area.
6.28.1948 City: Fukui Deaths: 3,769 Mag: 7.3 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
Nearly 67,000 houses destroyed in the Fukui area by the earthquake and fires. Damage was especially severe in areas of alluvium. Some ground fissures were observed in the area. It was felt from Ibaraki and Niigata Prefectures, Honshu to Uwajima, Shikoku. More than 550 aftershocks were felt in the month following the quake. Some sources list the death toll as high as 5,390.
12.20.1946 City: Nankaido Deaths: 1,362 Mag: 8.1 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
More than 2,600 people injured and 100 missing: over 36,000 houses destroyed or severely damaged in southern Honshu and on Shikoku. An additional 2,100 houses were washed away by a tsunami, which reached heights of 5-6 m (16-20 ft) on the east coast of the Kii Peninsula, Honshu and on the east and south coasts of Shikoku. Landslides, ground fissures, uplift and subsidence were observed in the area. The quake was felt from northern Honshu to Kyushu.
1.12.1945 City: Mikawa Deaths: 1,961 Mag: 7.1 Tsunami/Fires: No
More than 17,000 houses destroyed or seriously damaged, primarily in Aichi (Aiti) and Gifu (Gihu) Prefectures. It was felt from Fukushima (Hukusima) to Shimane Prefectures, Honshu and on Shikoku. Surface faulting observed with up to 2 m (6 ft) vertical displacement.
12.7.1944 City: Tonankai Deaths: 998 Mag: 8.1 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
Authoritative Japanese sources list the death toll as 998. More than 73,000 houses were destroyed or heavily damaged by the earthquake and an additional 3,000 houses were washed away by the tsunami. The quake was felt from northern Honshu to Kyushu. A large tsunami struck the Pacific Coast of Japan from Choshi, Honshu to Tosashimizu, Shikoku. Maximum wave heights of up to 8 m (26 ft) were observed on the east coast of the Kii Peninsula, Honshu. A 0.5-m tsunami was recorded on Attu, Alaska and a small tsunami was recorded at San Diego and Terminal Island, California.
9.10.1943 City: Tottori Deaths: 1,190 Mag: 7.4 Tsunami/Fires: No
About 7,500 houses destroyed in the Tottori area. It was felt from Niigata, to Kumamoto, Kyushu. Surface faulting was seen on two nearly-parallel faults about 3 km apart southwest of Tottori. The longest one was about 8 km (5 mi) long with both horizontal and vertical displacements.
3.2.1933 City: Sanriku Deaths: 3,000 Mag: 8.4 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
Because this earthquake occurred about 290 km (180 mi) off the coast of Honshu, most of the casualties and damage were caused by the large tsunami that was generated, instead of directly from the earthquake itself. About 5,000 houses in Japan were destroyed, of which nearly 3,000 were washed away. Maximum wave heights of 28.7 m (94 ft) were observed at Ryori Bay, Honshu. The tsunami also caused slight damage in Hawaii, where a 2.9-meter (9.5-foot) was recorded at Napoopoo.
3.7.1927 City: Tango Deaths: 3,020 Mag: 7.6 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
More than 1,100 people killed and 98% of the houses in Mineyama destroyed by the earthquake and subsequent fires. The quake was felt from Kagoshima to Tokyo. Faulting was observed on the Gomura and Yamada Faults, at right angles to each other at the base of the Tango Peninsula.
9.1.1923 City: Kanto Deaths: 142,800 Mag: 7.9 Tsunami/Fires: Yes
Extreme destruction in the Tokyo - Yokohama area from the earthquake and subsequent firestorms, which burned about 381,000 of the more than 694,000 houses that were partially or completely destroyed. Although often known as the Great Tokyo Earthquake (or the Great Tokyo Fire), the damage was apparently most severe at Yokohama. Damage also occurred on the Boso and Izu Peninsulas and on O-shima. Nearly 2 m (6 ft) of permanent uplift was observed on the north shore of Sagami Bay and horizontal displacements of as much as 4.5 m (15 ft) were measured on the Boso Peninsula. A tsunami was generated in Sagami Bay with wave heights as high as 12 m (39 ft) on O-shima and 6 m (20 ft) on the Izu and Boso Peninsulas. Sandblows were noted at Hojo which intermittently shot fountains of water to a height of 3 m (10 ft).
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