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Sudden, Massive Flooding Near Tokyo Catches Japan Off-Guard

japan flooding

Caption: “Miyagi, Tochigi, Ibaraki: 4 Dead, 15 Missing; 12,000 households affected by flooding.” Screencap from ANN official YouTube Channel.

Last week Tokyo and the Kanto region endured days of torrential rain caused by Typhoon Etau. Bedroom communities and prefectures to the northeast of Tokyo were hit hard by massive, unexpected flooding.

At least 12,000 households were affected by the flooding that left at least four dead and at least fifteen people missing.

The sheer scale of the flooding was surprising, and was reminiscent of the devastation caused by the massive tsunami that struck northeastern Japan in March, 2011.

While Typhoon Etau affected a large geographic region northeast of Tokyo, one of the hardest-hit cities was Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, about 60 kilometers northeast of central Tokyo.

Heavy rains breached and destroyed the Kinugawa River levee.

Google Crisis Response Map showing [before-and-after] satellite image of large-scale flooding affecting #Kinugawa area: We hope and pray from the bottom of our hearts that everyone remains safe and can start rebuilding their lives as soon as possible.

News reports also showed the scale of the flooding:

News networks provided non-stop live coverage of the calamity. Users shared some of the images on Twitter:

Here's live coverage from where the levee broke on the Kinugawa [River]. Thanks to the JSDF (Japan Self-Defense Forces), everyone stranded on the rooftop was saved. The JSDF was really able to work quickly to save them once alerted of the situation. Hopefully people stranded in other flood-hit areas can be saved! They're in our prayers!

The operation to rescue a couple and their dogs was one of the most shared news items on Twitter:

I couldn't stop watching television coverage of the eldery man being rescued holding his dog (who didn't bark or anything). When they were finally safe I started to cry.

Here's the entire rescue:

The woman and her dog have been saved; next up is the man and the remaining dog.

Other viewers noticed that the television helicopter that captured images of the rescue may have been in the way:

While I think it's great that they were saved, just ten minutes later the whole house was washed away. I shuddered when I realized how close things were. Anyway, the crew of the helicopter here getting in the way of rescue operations should line up and publicly hang their heads in shame.

The Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF, Japan's military) have been widely lauded for their efforts to quickly and efficiently help people affected by the flooding.

The JSDF themselves have been active on Twitter and in other media, promoting their rescue and recovery efforts.

Here is the situation from Kanto to northern Japan after we were deployed to assist following torrential rains. In Ibaraki our efforts continue, helping those stranded by the flooding, and deploying boats deliver people to safety.

A house that proved to be remarkably resilient to the flooding has become a meme on social media:

The Hebel House survived a night of flooding.

Hebel House is a brand of prefabricated housing in Japan. Prefabricated homes are fairly common in suburban Japan; components are manufactured in a factory and then shipped to a building site to be assembled by contractors.

Online news site Livedoor reported on the social media phenomenon surrounding the Hebel House. According to Livedoor, one commenter on the internet said:


Of course Hebel House would survive the flood. When I build a house, I'm going with them!

Climate Change Means Changing Typhoon Patterns in Japan

Traditionally, typhoons move from west to east across the main Japanese island of Honshu, and some of their power is blocked by mountains bordering Tokyo's western outskirts.

Kanto Plain

Traditionally, typhoons move from west to east across the main Japanese island of Honshu, and some of their power is blocked by mountains bordering Tokyo's western outskirts. Image remixed by Nevin Thompson, from Wikipedia.

In recent years changes in jet stream patterns due to climate change have also changed typhoon landfall patterns in the Tokyo area.

Typhoons now typically arrive from the south and the open Pacific Ocean. With no mountain ranges to disrupt the power of the typhoon weather front, hot, humid, and intensely wet air flows northward over Tokyo and the flat Kanto Plain before being blocked by the wall of mountains that ring Tokyo to the north.

Kanto Plain 2

Because of climate change and changes to the jet stream, intensely wet weather patterns converge on Tokyo and the Kanto Plain directly from the south and the open Pacific. Image remixed by Nevin Thompson, from Wikipedia.

As a result, typhoons, which have become larger and more powerful in recent years, tend to cause more serious flooding than in past decades.

Last week's typhoon was a disaster for many, but also a learning opportunity for some. A Twitter user noted that someone on 2ch (“ni-chan”), Japan's answer to Reddit and 4chan, had carefully documented every variety of helicopter shown on television during the disaster recovery efforts.

This was compiled by somebody on 2ch, but here are all the helicopters that helped out in the flooding at Joso, Ibaraki.

  • GeorgeMokray

    I understand that some of the radioactive waste removed from Fukushima was washed away by these floods too. It is not only the scale of disaster that is reminding people of the tsunami.

    • Nevin Thompson

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, I just picked up on that. Not sure if I would link to RT myself, but Mainichi has an English-language report on the same thing. Mainichi is the only credible source I have seen reporting on it:

      • GeorgeMokray

        The trouble with nuclear reactor accidents is that they are almost never over. Chernobyl is still going on, Fukushima is still going on. However, Three Mile Island is over and done with because America!!!

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