The stone tablet has stood on this forested hillside since before they were born, but the villagers have faithfully obeyed the stark warning carved on its weathered face: “Do not build your homes below this point!”
Residents say this injunction from their ancestors kept their tiny village of 11 households safely out of reach of the deadly tsunami last month that wiped out hundreds of miles of Japanese coast and rose to record heights near here. The waves stopped just 300 feet below the stone, and the village beyond it.
“They knew the horrors of tsunamis, so they erected that stone to warn us,” said Tamishige Kimura, 64, the village leader of Aneyoshi.
Hundreds of these so-called tsunami stones, some more than six centuries old, dot the coast of Japan, standing in silent testimony to the past destruction that these lethal waves have frequented upon this earthquake-prone nation. But modern Japan, confident that advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable areas, came to forget or ignore these ancient warnings, dooming it to repeat bitter experiences when the recent tsunami struck.
“The tsunami stones are warnings across generations, telling descendants to avoid the same suffering of their ancestors,” said Itoko Kitahara, a specialist in the history of natural disasters at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. “Some places heeded these lessons of the past, but many didn’t.”
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