Deeper into Jeopardy! XXXVII: CNN World Languages – $400

We’ve done linguistics, we’ve done a language’s literature, but we’ve never done a straight-up “languages” category – partly out of coincidence, and partly because those are often the last category of a round which tend to have clues that aren’t conducive to posts like I write for this blog. So now that the opportunity’s come up, courtesy of some cable news network or another, let’s take it up.

Jeopardy! category: CNN WORLD LANGUAGES (26-1-2015)

$400 clue: (Will Ripley reads:) Years before a 2011 disaster, a scientist here in Japan coined the term genpatsu-shinsai, genpatsu meaning nuclear plant & shinsai being this type of disaster sometimes accompanied by a tsunami

Correct response

The gist: If you were online in March 2011, you might remember Genkatsu-kun, the adorable little nuclear scamp who had some tummy problems. His upset stomach was caused by the 2011 earthquake off the coast of Tōhoku in northeastern Honshu, the country’s largest island. The earthquake was the strongest ever recorded to hit Japan and the fourth strongest ever recorded anywhere. It originated about 70 kilometres off the coast in the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific Plate, the largest plate in the world, is currently subducting the plate on which Honshu sits (which plate that is actually isn’t 100% clear). The effect was wide-reaching, jaw-dropping, and devastating – portions of Japan moved almost two and a half metres into the Pacific Ocean, parts of the country’s shoreline dropped more than half a metre (allowing the water to travel even further inland), and the Pacific Plate itself dropped at least 20 metres, maybe up to 40. The energy put out by the subduction caused a 180 kilometre wide section of seabed to upthrust six to eight metres, launching waves up to six metres high at Japan’s eastern shore (and smaller waves all across the shoreline of the Pacific Ocean). Besides causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, killing almost 16 000 people, and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, probably the most publicized result of the earthquake was the damage and meltdown of three reactors at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Japan (along with other countries who had citizens in the area) issued an evacuation zone around the plants, and the reactors leaked radioactive coolant – sea water used to carry heat away from the reactors – into the Ocean. Japanese media outlets were criticized for failing to report on the full severity of the disaster, for example waiting several weeks before calling the situation a “meltdown,” although international outlets had done so much earlier.

As for the phrase “genpatsu-shinsai” (原発震災), it was coined by Katsuhiko Ishibashi in 1997, to describe just such an event – an earthquake causes a nuclear emergency, which hampers rescue efforts and compounds the damage and severity of the disaster. Japan sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is extremely seismically active, and Ishibashi believed, rightly as it turns out, that it was only a matter of time before such an event would occur. After the events of March 2011, he stated that “if Japan had faced up to the dangers earlier, we could have prevented Fukushima.”

An energy map of the tsunami across the Pacific, from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

The clue: Happening less than four years ago, I don’t think anyone has totally forgotten about what happened, but that doesn’t mean everyone will parse the clue correctly. Contestant Christine, who clearly had the tsunami in her head, ventured “tidal wave” – which many people confuse with tsunamis, but is actually a totally separate phenomenon. She probably should have thought twice about it, though, since the tsunami was mentioned directly in the clue.

In Jeopardy!: I have a feeling this section might be a bit hard for this category, dealing as it does with just “words,” but we’ll give it a shot anyway. Earthquakes, of course, show up in all sorts of categories, from science to current events to history and more, and sure enough a search in the J!Archive gives around 250 results. Just nine of them mention Japan – prior to March 2011, they were mostly about the Kobe earthquake of 1995. There are eleven clues about earthquakes and tsunamis, more often asking what a marine earthquake causes with “tsunami” as the response rather than the other way around.

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