Medieval Japanese Culture and Catastrophe: Evaluating Societal Responses to Natural Disasters.

Faculty Sponsor

Yun Xia


Arts and Sciences



Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 5-3-2018


Japan's unique geographical location on the seismically active "Ring of Fire" has and will continue to produce catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis. The Japanese experiences of coping with natural disasters throughout history have contributed to the development of their unique cultural identity. Unlike other Asiatic cultures, the Japanese have vivid imaginations of apocalyptic scenarios despite lacking a Judeo-Christian tradition and have tied natural disasters to both the final End of Times as well as the end of different eras. To exemplify this idea, I will examine the five-year Genpei War period (1180 to 1185 AD), which featured both natural catastrophes as well as political upheavals. Considering the sparse historical documentation of the events of the Genpei War, I resort to two pieces of literature in researching this topic. The first is The Tale of the Heike, a Japanese epic that accounts events of the Genpei War. The second is The Account of a Ten-Foot Square Hut, a collection of poetry by Kamo no Chomei, a contemporary of the Genpei War. These two narratives demonstrate that to the Japanese during the 12th century, events of the natural world reflected and corresponded with political trends. More specifically, natural disasters occurred to punish the government's religious immorality.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

Max Shiller is a sophomore undergraduate majoring in History, Classics, and Humanities. His selection of the project stemmed from an interest in natural disaster history after attending an American Institute of Archaeology Lecture on Pompeii last spring. Shiller intends to pursue further research in ancient natural disasters and Mediterranean cultures as well as a doctorate in Classics.

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