The primary purpose of this book is to contribute to the study of Japanese history. My intended audience is scholars of Japan, especially historians. The topic of earthquakes will also appeal to readers with little or no knowledge of Japan. It is my intention that readers unfamiliar with Japan but who possess an interest in earthquakes, the history of science, the social history of catastrophes, and related topics will benefit from this book and be able to comprehend it without excessive struggle. For these readers I have made a point of defining or translating all Japanese terms and preferring translated English titles of Japanese works in the main text.

Popular culture in early modern Japan relied heavily on plays on words. Such wordplay was possible because of the many homonyms in Japanese and because of flexibility in the writing system. Writers could deploy combinations of Chinese characters and native syllabic scripts (essentially an alphabet) to facilitate wordplay or to add additional levels of nuance or humor. When discussing such matters, extensive use of Japanese terms is inevitable. Nevertheless, even in such discussions, attentive readers who do not know Japanese should be able to grasp the main points.

Many of the sources for this study are visual in nature. I have tried to write about prints and other visual images as richly as possible to convey a sense of their contents through words. Some essential material is reproduced within the book as figures. To moderate production costs, however, many images discussed can be accessed by typing into a browser the URL (universal resource locator) found in the notes. In selecting these URLs, I have favored well-established, large digital archives whose Web addresses are unlikely to change. Moreover, all other factors being similar, I have favored the shortest URL. Even if a URL does become inoperative over time, it is a simple task to search for a print using its Japanese name.


It is a pleasure to acknowledge friends, colleagues, and support staff who have sustained and facilitated the production of this book. The process leading to this book began in 2004, when I was fortunate to collaborate with Ruth Ludwin on an article. Starting out as a side project, the work I did for our coauthored piece caused me to set aside past lines of research and shift most of my attention to earthquakes.

My work on earthquakes benefited from friends and colleagues who have sent me articles form a variety of media sources over the years. These contributors include Laura Nenzi, Erica Brindley, Jessamyn Abel, and Jonathan Abel. My wife, Akiko, has been especially helpful in sending me earthquake-related articles and in many other ways. Brian Atwater and Robert Geller have provided valuable assistance with respect to questions about seismology. I am especially grateful to Robert Geller for his fast responses to my questions and for providing me with scientific journal articles on a variety of key topics that I would not likely have encountered on my own. Some of this material has informed the present book, and all of it will be useful for future projects. I am grateful to Noriko Itasaka for her assistance in obtaining primary sources connected with the Ansei Edo earthquake.

The Pennsylvania State University has been instrumental in facilitating my research and writing. A year of sabbatical leave in 2004–2005 provided the ideal incubation conditions, ultimately resulting in this book and several articles on related topics. I am grateful to Gregg Roeber, Eric Hayot, and Michael Kulikowski for providing administrative assistance that facilitated my work. I have imposed a heavy load on the unsung heroes of Penn State's interlibrary loan staff, who have always been helpful and efficient. I would also like to thank the staff of the Tokyo Municipal Library, Japan's National Diet Library, and the Saitama Prefectural Museum of History and Folklore for a variety of assistance. Digital text and image collections available to the public have contributed greatly to this book. In particular, I would like to acknowledge Waseda University Library Catalog, the Earthquake Research Institute, University of Tokyo, and the Kokuritsu Kokue Toshokan digitalized sources collection at the National Diet Library.

I appreciate the opportunity to present my research and thoughts at a variety of conferences and symposia in recent years, and my ideas have benefited from discussions with Gregory Clancey, Jordan Sand, Daniel Botsman, Gerald Figal, Phil Brown, Garrit Schenk, Noura Dirani, Monica Juneja, Steve Phipps, Frank Chance, Kristina Buhrman, Haruko Wakabayashi, Bettina Gramlich-Oka, Amanda Stinchecum, Fabian Drixler, Ian Miller, and others.

Two reviewers for the University of Hawai'i Press provided thoughtful comments, helpful references, and useful criticism. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your anonymous work and regret being unable fully to implement all of your suggestions. I thank University of Hawai'i Press executive editor Patricia Crosby for her support for this project and expert guidance. It was a pleasure working with production editor Stephanie Chun and copy editor Lee Motteler. My brother Jeff, proprietor of Cherokee Drafting Specialists, produced the two maps for this book.

Finally, I would like to thank Paul Roomsburg and those who periodically gather at his cabin to play music, as well as my larger network of music friends. You help me keep the peculiarities of academic life in reasonable perspective, which helps make books like this one possible.

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