Japanese Students Compete in Making Earthquake-Resistant Toothpick Towers

A Japanese engineering university in Kumamoto is famous for holding a unique competition, challenging students to build toothpick towers that can resist a simulated earthquake.

As you probably already know, because of its location in the Circum-Pacific Mobile Belt, where there is constant seismic and volcanic activity, Japan is the world’s most earthquake-prone country. Even though Japan takes up only 0.25% of the land area on our planet, 18.5% of earthquakes in the world occur here. So I guess you can say that building earthquake-resistant architecture is paramount for the Japanese nation. To that end, one engineering school has been challenging students to come up with toothpick tower designs that can resist a simulated earthquake.

Since 2006, the Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering, Sojo University has been holding the “Toothpick Tower Seismic Contest“, a unique competition that challenges teams of students to build earthquake-resistant towers using only toothpicks and wood glue.

Each team’s tower is placed on a 30cm board and metal weights are gradually added on top of it, while the platform they are placed on starts to shake, simulating an earthquake. As the horizontal vibrations increase, the towers start toppling under the pressure of the metallic weights. The last tower left standing is declared the winner.


The toothpick tower competition was a hit from its very first edition, and since 2011, Sojo University has also hosted contests between teams of high-school students, with the aim of raising the interest of high school students in the manufacturing and design of earthquake-resistant buildings.

To be approved for the competition, the toothpick towers must be at least 50 centimeters tall and weigh less than 65 grams. They are glued to their respective wooden boards as not to slide off when the platform starts to vibrate.


The “Toothpick Tower Seismic Contest” is designed to stimulate creativity, teamwork, and interest in buildings that can withstand earthquakes. In 2021, the competition was held on the 30th and 31st of October, with just one representative of each team being allowed into the venue, due to Covid-19 restrictions.