The story begins on January 17, 1995, the date on which the Great Hanshin (Kobe) Earthquake struck. It describes the experiences of a wide variety of people affected by the tragedy, as well as how the central, prefectural, and local governments responded.
The narrative then jumps ahead to Kobe in 2007. George Matsunaga, a 42-year-old Japanese-American journalist who covered the earthquake, is back in the city for the first time in 13 years. He was brought back by a mysterious email he received from Takeshi Yoshimura, a Japanese freelance journalist he had gotten to know during his reporting. Yoshimura was supposed to have died in the 2004 Indian Ocean quake. Matsunaga is greeted by Yoshimura’s girlfriend, a jazz singer named Maki Higuchi. She gives him a list that Yoshimura had entrusted to her?a list of the people whose experiences are described in the opening section of the book. He has no idea why Yoshimura still had these people in his sights, and wonders what point there is in rehashing what happened 13 years ago, but he is persuaded by Maki’s fervor to begin retracing Yoshimura’s footsteps. Witness statements soon confirm the occurrence of something that had the feeling of an underground explosion. He also learns that there were suspicious delays in the mobilization of the Self Defense Forces, that American corporations had pulled out of the area just before the quake, and that there was not a single casualty among the families of corporate and political big shots?all of which seem to suggest that certain people knew about the quake beforehand. That is to say, Yoshimura appeared to have been investigating the possibility that the quake was manmade. Following great destruction comes massive investment in recovery, which in turns allows certain parties to make a killing, so to speak, from the victims’ suffering. Had Yoshimura gone to Sumatra because he knew there was going to be a massive earthquake? Where will the next big one occur?
In April 2008, Matsunaga and Maki travel to China, where the buildup to the Beijing Olympics is in full swing. They head for Wenchuan on the Tibetan border with Sichuan Province to report on the repressive policies of the Chinese government toward the Tibetan people. While they are there, the Great Sichuan Earthquake hits . . .
“From a conceptual point of view, the work is pure fiction,” author Tetsutaka Shibata has declared. But building on large amounts of data about what really happened and who benefited from the reconstruction efforts following the Kobe quake, and weaving in domestic and international political circumstances as well as social conditions, he convincingly imagines the possibility of earthquakes being deliberately triggered for profit by human actors.