Modern sea walls failed to protect coastal towns from Japan's destructive tsunami last month. But in the hamlet of Aneyoshi, a single centuries-old tablet saved the day.Isn't that just how it is? In the bustle of modern life, we always forget what's most important. In a physical sense, people in Japan lost their lives because of preference for the convenience or prestige or desirability of living so near the ocean even when they should have realized the dangers. In a spiritual sense, how many of us, for the same reasons, pitch our tents toward Babylon, which succumbed anciently, which we've since rebuilt and, we are promised, will be destroyed again in the future?
"High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," the stone slab reads. "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point."
It was advice the dozen or so households of Aneyoshi heeded, and their homes emerged unscathed from a disaster that flattened low-lying communities elsewhere and killed thousands along Japan's northeastern shore.
Hundreds of such markers dot the coastline, some more than 600 years old. Collectively they form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts along major fault lines have made it a repeated target of earthquakes and tsunamis over the centuries.
The markers don't all indicate where it's safe to build. Some simply stand _ or stood, washed away by the tsunami _ as daily reminders of the risk. "If an earthquake comes, beware of tsunamis," reads one. In the bustle of modern life, many forgot.
"People had this crucial knowledge, but they were busy with their lives and jobs, and many forgot," said Yotaru Hatamura, a scholar who has studied the tablets.
One stone marker warned of the danger in the coastal city of Kesennuma: "Always be prepared for unexpected tsunamis. Choose life over your possessions and valuables."We have acquired more technology and creature comforts from the last 150 years of progress than the world has ever accumulated during the previous 5,000 years. But what good will they be to us if we're dying spiritually? We can't take them with us, so why do we act like we can?
Tetsuko Takahashi, 70, safe in her hillside house, watched from her front window as others ignored that advice. She saw an ocean liner swept half a mile (nearly a kilometer) in from the port, crushing buildings in its path.
"After the earthquake, people went back to their homes to get their valuables and stow their 'tatami' floor mats. They all got caught," she said.
Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with 10 commandments written in stone. Even before he descended the mount, however, the people had already corrupted themselves with the pleasures of the world, even after having been told to purify themselves not a handful of days before. They'd had a chance to get to higher ground, but many found themselves suffering for their poor choices.
"It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades," he said.
The tightly-knit community of Aneyoshi, where people built homes above the marker, was an exception.
"Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school," said Yuto Kimura, 12, who guided a recent visitor to one near his home. "When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground."
Moroni, on the American continent, and his father, Mormon, before him engraved their warnings in solid metal...gold, even...to forewarn us of the tsunami of wickedness and genocide they had just experienced. They were also commanded to warn us against the pride of our hearts and calamities that God had revealed to them in visions that we would choose for ourselves in our day. Again, those prophecies were both temporal (physical) and spiritual.
Will you heed those warnings, so carefully preserved and perpetuated in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and other sacred scripture? Or will you build your dwelling close to the Great and Spacious Building just before it is destroyed?