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The meeting that wasn’t

In May 2018, the Geological Society of Japan turned 125. Hugh Torrens reports on his eventful and rather dramatic recent trip to Hokkaido to celebrate this milestone.

GSJTo mark the 125th anniversary of the Geological Society of Japan (GSJ), an anniversary conference and international symposium on “Geology and Society” was organised at Hokkaido University, over 5-7th September 2018. I attended, with my wife, to represent the Geological Societies of London and Hungary, present the GSJ with our Bicentennial History, give a lecture on how geology and society should better co-operate in future, and read addresses from both Presidents.

But, sadly, disasters struck. In the days leading up to the conference, powerful Typhoon Jebi battered the region, bringing violent winds and flooding. Then, in the early morning of September 6th, a moment magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck Iburi Subprefecture in southern Hokkaido. The earthquake triggered major landslides and an electrical power outage throughout Hokkaido, causing a blackout that shut down all public transport. 41 people are confirmed dead and over 600 were injured. The decision had to be taken to cancel the 125th anniversary conference. 

But we should congratulate, the GSJ for organising such an important topic for discussion and for their resilience in the face of such island-arc-related activities, with which they have so often to contend, as well as the Japanese engineers for designing hotels in which we felt 'as safe as houses', despite being on the sixth floor (of many more), from the safe routes our beds took to dissipate this earthquake's energies laterally.

At a later Quaker meeting in Tokyo, we met a Bristol engineer who discussed how the Japanese might now farm more wind-born energy at sea. He explained how the greater water depths around Japan meant that these would have to be surface tethered, as any bottom tethering would mostly be too deep. Geology certainly involves society in Japan more than in Britain.

Image: The GSJ conference team, with those international delegates from the partner Geological Societies of Korea, London, Mongolia, and Taiwan who could get to Sapporo. Professor Millard Coffin (Hobart, Tasmania), this year's GSJ award winner, stands at the right of the front row, next to the GSJ president, Hiroki Matsuda. (Photo credit: Simon Wallis.)