The 1973 Nemuro Earthquake

Posted by Karl Lundgren on

It’s a serene June afternoon in 1973 in the quaint coastal town of Nemuro, located at the eastern tip of Hokkaido, Japan. The sky is clear, and the Pacific Ocean’s waves gently lap against the shore. Fishermen are busy preparing their boats for the next catch, children are playing in the streets, and the daily hustle and bustle of life carries on as usual.

Suddenly, without warning, the ground begins to shake. At first, it's a mild tremor, causing curiosity rather than concern. But within seconds, the tremor escalates into a violent quake, shaking buildings to their foundations and sending people scrambling for safety. Windows shatter, telephone poles sway precariously, and a deep rumbling sound fills the air, a stark contrast to the peacefulness of just moments before.

This was the reality for the residents of Nemuro on June 17th, 1973, as they experienced a powerful earthquake that would leave a lasting impact on their lives and the region's history. The 7.4 magnitude earthquake not only caused significant physical damage but also sparked advancements in earthquake preparedness and scientific research.

Join us as we delve into the story of the 1973 Nemuro Earthquake, exploring the tectonic forces at play, the community’s response, and the enduring lessons learned from this seismic event.

The year 1973 was marked by many significant events, but for the people of Nemuro, Hokkaido, it was a year they would never forget. On June 17th, 1973, the region experienced a powerful earthquake that shook the very foundations of the northeastern Japanese island. The 1973 Nemuro Earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.4, remains one of the most notable seismic events in Japan's history, not only due to its intensity but also because of its impact on the community and advancements in seismic research.

The Tectonic Setting: Understanding the Basics

Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, owing to its position along the Pacific Ring of Fire. The country sits atop multiple converging tectonic plates, including the Pacific Plate, the Philippine Sea Plate, the Okhotsk Plate, and the Amurian Plate. This unique positioning results in frequent seismic activity as these plates interact, sometimes slipping past each other smoothly and other times locking and accumulating stress until a sudden release occurs—resulting in an earthquake.

The Nemuro Peninsula, located at the eastern tip of Hokkaido, is particularly susceptible to seismic activity due to the subduction of the Pacific Plate beneath the North American Plate along the Kuril Trench. This subduction zone is a hotspot for large earthquakes, and the 1973 event was a stark reminder of the immense geological forces at play.

The Earthquake Strikes: A Day of Destruction

On June 17th, at 12:55 PM JST, the residents of Nemuro were going about their daily routines when the ground beneath them began to tremble violently. The earthquake, with a depth of approximately 60 kilometers, unleashed its energy over a broad area. Buildings swayed, infrastructure was damaged, and panic ensued as people sought safety from the shaking ground.

Despite the significant magnitude, the death toll was remarkably low, with only one fatality reported. This outcome was attributed to several factors, including the relatively low population density of the affected area and the preparedness measures in place. However, the earthquake did cause extensive damage to buildings, roads, and utilities, disrupting daily life and prompting a large-scale emergency response.

The Aftermath: Community and Government Response

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, emergency services and local authorities mobilized quickly to assess the damage and provide assistance to those affected. Evacuation centers were set up, and relief supplies were distributed to ensure that basic needs were met. The Japanese government, known for its efficient disaster response mechanisms, played a crucial role in coordinating the efforts and ensuring that aid reached the most vulnerable populations.

The earthquake also spurred discussions on improving building codes and infrastructure resilience. Japan's already stringent construction standards were re-evaluated and further strengthened to better withstand future seismic events. This proactive approach has been a hallmark of Japan's earthquake preparedness strategy, continuously evolving through lessons learned from past events.

Scientific Advancements: Learning from the Quake

The 1973 Nemuro Earthquake provided valuable data for seismologists and geologists studying the dynamics of subduction zones. The event highlighted the complex interactions between tectonic plates and the potential for large earthquakes in the region. In the years following the earthquake, researchers focused on understanding the characteristics of the seismic waves generated and the stress distribution along the fault line.

One significant outcome of this research was the refinement of earthquake prediction models. While predicting the exact timing and location of an earthquake remains elusive, advancements in understanding the conditions that lead to such events have improved hazard assessments and early warning systems. Japan's dedication to seismic research has positioned it as a global leader in earthquake science and disaster preparedness.

The Human Element: Stories of Resilience

Beyond the scientific and infrastructural impacts, the 1973 Nemuro Earthquake is remembered for the resilience and solidarity of the affected communities. Residents of Nemuro and surrounding areas demonstrated remarkable strength in the face of adversity. Neighbors helped each other rebuild homes, and local businesses contributed to the recovery efforts, showcasing the unyielding spirit of the Japanese people.

One notable story is that of a small fishing village near Nemuro. Despite the damage to their boats and equipment, the villagers banded together to repair and restore their livelihood. Their determination and cooperation became a symbol of hope and resilience, inspiring others to persevere through the challenging times.

A Legacy of Preparedness: The Lasting Impact

The legacy of the 1973 Nemuro Earthquake extends far beyond the immediate aftermath of the event. It served as a catalyst for significant advancements in earthquake preparedness, not only in Japan but also globally. The lessons learned from Nemuro influenced international seismic standards and contributed to the development of more effective early warning systems.

Japan's commitment to disaster readiness is evident in its comprehensive approach, encompassing public education, stringent building codes, and cutting-edge research. Today, residents regularly participate in earthquake drills, and communities are equipped with emergency supplies and evacuation plans. This culture of preparedness has undoubtedly saved countless lives in subsequent seismic events.

Reflecting on Nemuro: A Reminder of Nature's Power

As we reflect on the 1973 Nemuro Earthquake, we are reminded of the immense power of nature and the importance of preparedness. While we cannot prevent earthquakes, we can mitigate their impact through knowledge, resilience, and community solidarity. The story of Nemuro is one of both tragedy and triumph, highlighting the human capacity to adapt and overcome in the face of natural disasters.

In conclusion, the 1973 Nemuro Earthquake remains a pivotal event in Japan's seismic history. It underscored the need for continuous improvement in disaster preparedness and response, leaving a lasting legacy that continues to shape how we approach and understand earthquakes today. As we move forward, the lessons from Nemuro serve as a guiding light, reminding us of the importance of readiness and the strength of the human spirit in times of crisis.

So what can we do to get better prepared?


A kit is not a safety blanket you just purchase to make yourself feel better, it is an important investment in your household’s safety and preparedness. Not all emergency kits are created equal, and we highly recommend using the Province of BC and Government of Canada resources when building or buying a kit. We are also pleased to offer Earthquake Kits that developed to meet the government requirements for emergency preparedness. Visit our Gov BC Earthquake Kit product page to view the contents of our kits and feel free to use this as a guideline for assembling your own. What’s important to us is not that you buy a kit from us, but that every household have a kit at the ready in case something unexpected should occur.


The Province of BC and the Federal Government have made huge strides in this area in recent years implementing an Emergency Notifications network through mobile carriers and testing it to great success levels. This can provide seconds to even minutes of advanced notice prior to an earthquake being felt in any given location. However, a network of this complexity relies on strategically positioned censors along the coastline. We need to continue expanding this network of sensors and make sure that existing censors are being properly monitored and maintained.

We also need to expand from mobile phone notifications to physical alarms in homes, buildings, and especially schools/daycares.

For more details on how this Early Detection Grid works, please check out the following video by the CBC several years ago.


Know the Hazards

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Build Your Kits

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Make Your Plan

Plan how you will respond to a disaster to stay focused and safe.


Guides and Resources

Preparedness guides and community resources are available to help get ready for emergencies.


Evacuation and Recovery Resources

Learn what happens in evacuations, what financial assistance you might be eligible for and other recovery resources.


Education Programs and Toolkits

Create awareness about preparing for emergencies with Prepared BC's easy-to-use education programs and social media toolkits.

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