Search Trends: Japan Earthquake 2011

On March 11, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck northeast Japan and lasted for about five minutes. The temblor, registered as the largest to hit Japan and the world’s fourth largest since 1900, unleashed ocean waves that reached all the way to the United States. The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami may well register a death toll exceeding 10,000.

The unfolding news has kept the Japan crisis top of mind. Besides direct danger to coastal regions, the crippled reactors at Fukushima have many questioning over radiation effects. The accelerated cycle of searches on Yahoo! reveal these patterns:

  • Disaster details
    • earthquake, tsunami event
    • immediate aftermath
  • Maps and landmarks
  • Nuclear emergency
  • Rescue and donations
  • Popular Culture
  • Superstitions

 Disaster Details: The Events

Initial searches on Yahoo! tracked the degree of devastation and tsunami warnings issued throughout the Pacific. Many sought maps of the region to pinpoint not only the epicenter, but also the Pacific waves that went out at 500 mph.  Individual cities and towns were also looked up: Fukushima emerged early as a place of concern, although initial reports from the Japanese chief cabinet secretary assured the public there was no leak. News media — both local and international — were sought after.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

  • “japan’s tsunami,” “tsunami evacuations,” “tsunami warning buoys,” “marianas island tsunami warning,” “japan tsunami philippine tsunami warning,” “hawaii evacuation maps tsunami warning,” “tsunami evacuation zone hawaii,” “japan quake tsunami warning california,” “ocean whirlpool off japan,” “japan fault lines”
  • “what is a tsunami,” “tsunami wikipedia,” “how does a tsunami occur,” how “high does the richter scale go”
  • “where is japan on the map,” “air force bases in Japan,” “nagano japan map,” ‘how far is china from japan,” “Atsugi,” Hachinohe,” “Sendai Frefecture,” “Fukushima”

Disaster Details: The Immediate Aftermath

As the magnitude was revealed, people also tracked on the effect of the fourth most powerful temblor since 1900.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

  •  “tokyo evacuation,” japan death toll,” “victims map,” “tsunami affected areas,” “japan aftershocks,” “satellite images of tsunami,” “tsunami timeline,” “shelters in japan”

Cultural questions emerge in searches:

  • “how big is japan,” “why no looting in japan,” “what is prefecture”

Previous disasters were looked at. Just as the Chilean earthquake slightly shifted the earth’s axis, people looked into a similar shift in Tohuku, which shortened the day by 1.8 microseconds.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“tsunami in Indonesia 2004,” “haiti earthquake 2004,” “sumatra earthquake,” “1964 alaska earthquake video,” “how many microseconds in a second,” “microseconds to seconds”

Videos just hinted at the calamity of water and fire that swept away entire towns.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“youtube japan earthquake,” “japan earthquake pictures,” “japan tsunami photos,” “before and after pictures of japan”

People also followed up on what people in power are doing, searches included: “emperor of japan,” “emperor Akihito,” “naoto kan”

Concerns about the world economy also pushed financial queries up, including : “u.s. stocks,” “japanese yen rate,” “dollar to yen”

The disaster quickly triggered preparedness concerns.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“earthquake kits,” “emergency essentials,” “emergency preparedness,” “emergency food,” “first aid kits,” “72 hour emergency kits,” “emergency food supply,” “survival shelter,” “how to build an underground shelter”

Nuclear Emergency

Online focus shifted quickly to recovery, relief, and the ongoing potential nuclear disaster. Concerns about its effect on the world at large have been trending high, as well as other country’s own power plants.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“japan nuclear emergency,” “akihito,” “fukushima,” “nuclear plant,” “nuclear meltdown,” “what is a nuclear meltdown,” ““japan nuclear explosion,”  ““japan radiation leak,” “radiation exposure,” “radioactive vapor,” “will radiation hit philippines,” “radiation from japn to usa,” “what does radiation due to the body,” “effects of nuclear radiation,” “thyroid,” “how to protect yourself from nuclear radiation,” “iodine,” “microsieverts,” “iodine tablets radiation,” “radiation poisoning,” “potassium iodine tablets,” “nei” (nuclear energy institute), “iaea,” “ “germany reactors,” “TEPCO” (Tokyo Electric Power Co), “japan nuclear leak wind patterns,” “geiger counters,” “california nuclear power plants on a map,” “what are nuclear rods,” “what does a nuclear reactor look like,” “helicopters japan”

Japan’s own history with radiation exposure from World War II atomic bombs as well as other nuclear plant disasters have been resonating online.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“hiroshima and nagasaka,” “where is three mile island,” “3 mile island disaster,” “Chernobyl nuclear disaster,” “chernobyl fukushima,” “chernobyl birth defects,” “chernobyl fallout map,” “chernobyl timeline of events,” “children of Chernobyl,” “how many people died at chernoble,” “turnoble russia meltdown”

Rescue and donations

The impulse to give has been immediate. In addition to prayers, which also became a Twitter trending term, questions on what to do emerged on day one.  Hurricane Katrina emerged in this context as news got around on how much Japan donated to that disaster. The Chronicle of Philanthropy doesn note that donations have lagged far behind Katrina and Haiti in the first seven days — one theory is that the full damage is not yet evident. The unfolding storyline of nuclear disaster might be occupying people’s attention as well.

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“prayers for japan,” “how to help japan,” “red cross,” “donate japan,” “Japanese red cross,” “japan relief fund,” “samaritan purse japan,” “lady gaga japan bracelet,” “celebrities that donated to japan,” “donate clothes to japan,” “what countries helped with katrina.”

Popular culture

Japan’s atomic history triggered a generation of monster films that addressed that culture’s history and anxieties with the bomb. Within the United States, shows like “Dancing with the Stars” became tangentially relevant, as contestant Petra Nemcova recalled her horror at surviving the 2005 tsunami. Interior designer Nate Berkus also talked on interview shows about losing his loved one. A minor controversy rose after comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired as the commercial voice for Aflac, after publishing jokes about the tsunami.

 Searches on Yahoo! include:

“godzilla movies,” “godzilla,” “petra nemcova,” “nate berkus,” “aflac,” “gilbert gottfried,” “aflac duck voice,” “gilbert gottfried twitter”

Superstitions and doomsday concerns

Inevitably, such calamities trigger a search for meaning in superstitions as well as science, as people try to grapple with the meaning of why such disasters occur.  In addition to lookups for “nostradamus predictions” and “apocalypse,” people have been doing research on the Supermoon phenomena.

On March 19, the moon will be the closest to the earth in 18 years. An astrologer named Richard Nolle said on March 1 that lunar proximity would trigger storms, earthquakes volcanos. (The 2005 Indonesian tsunami occurred two weeks before that supermoon.) Some meteorologists dismissed that, other scientists want to keep an open mind, and at least one NASA astronomer thinks that having the moon 2% closer is “nothing really special.”

Searches on Yahoo! include:

“supermoon,” “supermoon predictions,” “nostradamus 2011,” “atlantis” (the lost city, believed to have been submerged in a tsunami, may have recently been uncovered), “will the world end in 2012,” “when will the world end,” “are we in end times,” “matthew 24”

– Vera H-C Chan, senior editor, Yahoo! Search Trends

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