A string of islands in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, gripped uneasily between the Pacific tectonic plate and the Philippine Sea Plate, Japan has seen more than its fair share of catastrophic disasters, from the 1888 eruption of Mount Bandai, shown above, which killed almost 500 people and laid waste to entire villages, to last week's horrific earthquake and tsunami, the devastation from which is still uncounted. In the 20th century alone, Japan was besieged by earthquake, typhoon, tsunami, fire, and volcano, not to mention nuclear attack and terrorism. Like Britain, another resolute island nation half a world away, Japan has always responded with stoic rebuilding. But unlike the British, or really anyone else in the world, the Japanese have refracted their historic misfortune through a unique cultural lens, producing monster movies, Zen poetry, modernist post-apocalyptic literature, and even pornographic manga involving tentacle rape. Why is Japan's cultural response to its history of disaster so fantastical -- and where does it come from?
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