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A Japanese village being flooded by a tsunami.
Photo Credit: Karl V. Steinbrugge Collection,
Earthquake Engineering Research Center.

This event used to be #2 on the countdown, but recent information indicates that it was much less destructive than this website previously thought...

The 1703 Awa, Japan Tsunami

Special thanks to Dr. Catherine Petroff, at the University of Washington for the following email:

"I am writing to let you know of an error in your helpful and very informative online article on tsunamis. Your website refers to a tsunami in Awa, Japan in 1703 that is listed as having killed 100,000 people. A tsunami did occur in Japan in 1703, but its death toll was an order of magnitude smaller. I have checked with my colleagues in the tsunami community and the consensus is that the event cited is a tsunami that occurred as a result of the 1703 Genroku (Kanto) earthquake. In 1703, the Genroku era, this region was known as Awa. It is now part of the Chiba prefecture. Watanabe (1) lists the fatalities at 10,000. Other sources such as the U. S. National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) (2) list 5233 deaths. As is usual with historical data, the numbers differ depending on the source, but all these numbers are all well below the 100,000 mark. It is possible that the 100,000 number resulted from a misprint of the Watanabe statistic of 10,000 deaths. The erroneous Awa event was cited both in Britannica Online and the 2004 Britannica Reference Suite DVD, but after we contacted them, they have since corrected their article on tsunamis (3) and list Krakatoa as the tsunami with the second most fatalities. The article in Wikipedia's online website has also been corrected.

"Other more disastrous tsunamis include South China Sea 1782 (40,000 dead) 2, Krakatau 1883 (36,500 dead) 2 and Nankaido 1498 (31,201 dead) 2. Even higher death tolls are associated with other events such as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the ca 1400 B.C. eruption of Santorini, but in these cases it is difficult to find accurate numbers for strictly tsunami related fatalities."


1.  Watanabe, H., 1998, "Nihon higai tsunami so_ran, dai ni-han" (Comprehensive list of destructive tsunamis to hit the Japanese islands, 2nd edition): Tokyo, University of Tokyo Press, 238 p. [in Japanese].

U. S. National Geophysical Data Center tsunami database

"tsunami." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 2 Aug. 2005.

Dr. Catherine M. Petroff, Research Scientist and Affiliate Assistant Professor, Environmental Fluid Mechanics, University of Washington

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