A powerful earthquake shook northwestern Japan on the evening of June 18 (local time), and officials warned of a tsunami up to 3.3 feet (one meter) high along parts of the coast. The quake was located in the Sea of Japan not far from the western coast of Honshu Island, about 20 miles southwest of the city of Sakata.
The Japan Meteorological Agency described the tremor as fairly shallow, about six miles below the sea’s surface. “Shallow” makes the quake sound rather benign, but shallow quakes tend to cause more damage on the Earth’s surface than deep quakes. This one registered six on the Japanese scale, which goes up to seven, but there were no immediate reports of damage. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) lists the magnitude at 6.4 on the Richter Scale, but it was originally registered at 6.8.
Kyodo News and public broadcaster NHK said service was suspended on two bullet train lines as a precautionary measure and to check for damage. NHK also said tens of thousands of households have lost electricity. All seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata were off line and no abnormalities were reported.
Delays/disruptions in ocean freight and oil production are possible, depending on the intensity of aftershocks. FreightWaves SONAR shows a Nippon Oil Company Ltd. facility located in the impact zone of the quake. Also, the Port of Sakata is close to the epicenter. It’s the major port for Yamagata Prefecture, as well as its only international port. According to World Port Source, Sakata supports regular container traffic to Busan, South Korea and other ports in the Sea of Japan region. Thus, it is a gateway to Russia and East Asia with prospects for continued growth. The Port of Sakata is a designated “Recycle Port,” and it is fast becoming a center for recycling-related industry.
The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) World Economic Outlook ranks Japan as the third-largest economy in the world, and the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 was almost $5 trillion. The economy is expected to cross the $5 trillion mark in 2019.
When the earthquake hit, officials with the Japan Meteorological Agency said they expected some waves to quickly reach some coastlines of Yamagata and Niigata, in the northwest of the country. They soon recorded a minor change in sea level on a small island off Niigata.
The agency initially issued a Tsunami Warning, which was downgraded to a Tsunami Advisory. However, they are still warning people to take the situation seriously, posting this in the advisory:
“A marine threat is present. Get out of the water and leave coastal regions immediately. Due to the risk of ongoing strong currents, do not enter the sea or approach coastal regions until the advisory is lifted. Slight sea-level changes may be observed in coastal regions, but no tsunami damage is expected.”
Japan is one of the most earthquake- and tsunami-prone areas in the world. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 offshore quake hit the northeast coast, causing a tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant. This most recent quake was centered about 175 miles from Fukushima.
Also, U.S. importers may experience minor delays in ocean freight coming from the affected region.