Photo/IllutrationThe shopping district near Sannomiya Station in Kobe is flooded on July 5, 1938. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

A passage from Junichiro Tanizaki's (1886-1965) novel "Sasameyuki" (The Makioka Sisters) reads as follows: "With raging waves surging endlessly, blowing spray from their stark white crests, the whole place looked as if everything were boiling rapidly."

This description of turbid water immediately evokes images of flood damage caused by Typhoon No. 19.

Tanizaki continues: "In this endless expanse of muddy sea, people clung to 'tatami' mats and tree branches, crying out for help as they were carried away by floodwater. But there was nothing anyone could do for them."

Novelist Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) praised Tanizaki's descriptive style, noting, "No novelist today can ever emulate it."

The vividness of Tanizaki's depiction came from his own experience of the "Hanshin Dai-suigai" (Great Hanshin flood) of 1938, in which 700 people were killed in Kobe and surrounding areas in landslides triggered by torrential rains that fell on the Rokko mountain range.

As part of his research prior to writing "The Makioka Sisters," Tanizaki was said to have perused a collection of essays by students at the Konan Gakuen school, which one of his relatives attended.

"Hanshin Chiho Suigai Kinencho," a book edited and published by Konan University to memorialize the 1938 deluge, contains graphic accounts written by young survivors.

"Homes disappeared in a flash," says one. Another notes bluntly, "My younger brother was found three days later, dead." There is also this observation: "Nature is more powerful than science."

Over the past eight decades since the Hanshin deluge, advances have been made in Japan's disaster-prevention infrastructure, and the accuracy of weather forecasting has improved significantly. Also, the public has certainly learned to take advantage of new resources at their disposal.

Still, there is no way to avert a typhoon, now or at any time in the future, as long as Japan's geographical position remains unchanged.

A stone monument on the Konan University campus in Kobe bears the words of the founder: "Be prepared, always."

It was a lesson learned at the cost of the lives of the school's pupils who perished in the great flood. The short message is all we need to heed as residents of this disaster-prone nation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 17

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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.