Photo/IllutrationPolice officers and others continue search and rescue operations after sunset at the site of landslides in Atsuma, Hokkaido, on Sept. 6. (Yasuhiro Sugimoto/ The Asahi Shimbun)

The Ainu god of nation-building descended from heaven and created an island, according to “Ainu Minwa-shu” (Collection of folklore of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu people) by Genzo Sarashina (1904-1985).

The god believed he had chosen a good spot, but it was actually on the back of a mammoth fish called Amemasu.

Enraged to be saddled with this island, the fish started acting up, triggering earthquakes.

There are other stories about temblor-inducing fish, which suggests that seismic events have plagued the Ainu people throughout history.

A killer quake struck Hokkaido in the early hours of Sept. 6.

In the town of Atsuma where the quake registered an intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, a “landslide” was reported, but it looked more like the entire mountain had collapsed. The scene brought to mind the old Japanese expression “yama-tsunami” (tsunami of the mountain).

When something like that strikes a residential community without warning, there is no time to flee.

I can only pray for the swiftest rescue operation.

The previous day, Hokkaido had been battered by Typhoon No. 21. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the people were jolted awake at 3 a.m., even before the new day had dawned. How terrifying that must have been.

Hokkaido’s power outage spread all over the island, forcing millions of people to live without electricity.

The Asahi Shimbun quoted a hospital staff member as lamenting: “We’d lost power during yesterday’s typhoon, but finally got it back. And now, we are without it again ...”

I cannot recall any past summer that was visited by as many natural disasters as we are experiencing this year all over Japan.

Buildings have been swallowed by flood waters, flattened by landslides or broken apart by ferocious winds. I have been forced to see too many scenes of the sudden, heartbreaking destruction of people’s normal lives.

In Hokkaido, there are place names that derived from Ainu words for “collapsed cliff” and “mountain torn asunder.” From these names, I can imagine the earnest hope of the Ainu people to warn posterity of potential danger.

It is as if they were telling us, “Observe your surroundings closely, and remain vigilant and prepared at all times.”

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 7

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.