Tokyo Kanto Earthquake 1923

The Great Kanto (Tokyo) Earthquake

Japanese History - The Great Kanto (Tokyo) Earthquake 関東大震災

The Great Kanto Earthquake was a massive earthquake in Japan that originated just off the south-west coast of Tokyo, in Sagami Bay, at 11:58 a.m. on Saturday, September 1, 1923.

(Kanto is the name of the geographical area of which Tokyo forms the center).

The Great Kanto Earthquake's magnitude was between 7.9 and 8.4 on the Richter scale, a huge quake on the same level of the Tohoku Earthquake of March 2011 which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and caused similar devastation though much less loss of life.

Contemporary witness accounts speak of the earthquake lasting between 4-10 minutes, a time scale which would have spread panic and fear amongst those who experienced the temblor.

The Great Kanto Earthquake caused great destruction all the way from Shizuoka prefecture, to Chiba Prefecture, Kanagawa Prefecture (including the resort town of Hakone, the old seat of the Shogunate, Kamakura, and the main city, Yokohama), and Tokyo itself.

Happening at noon, when lunches were being prepared all over the country, conflagrations were caused instantly from thousands of kitchen cooking fires.

Kanto Earthquake aftermath, Yokohama, Japan.
Yokohama after the 1923 earthquake, a view from Kotobuki Junior School in Yokohama
Marunouchi area near Tokyo Station in flames 1923, Tokyo.
Marunouchi in flames after the Great Kanto Earthquake, Tokyo, 1923

Simultaneous typhoons off the Noto Peninsula (in Ishikawa prefecture, on the Japan Sea side of the country) and in Tokyo Bay generated winds that fanned the flames. Tsunamis (tidal waves) were caused by the quake, devastating coastal areas, and landslides were also responsible for numerous other casualties.

The biggest single disaster of the quake happened in Tokyo's Ryogoku area, in Sumida ward, where up to 40,000 evacuees had sought refuge in what is now Yokoami-cho Koen Park, a former army parade ground that was in the process of being turned into today's park.

A firestorm engulfed the whole area and, further fueled by belongings salvaged and fled with, killed all assembled there.

Flower Peace Monument, Yokoamicho Koen Park, Ryogoku, Sumida-ku, Tokyo.
Flower Peace Monument, Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo
Metal object melted in Great Kanto Earthquake, Yokoamicho Park, Ryogoku, Tokyo.
Metal object melted in Great Kanto Earthquake, Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo
Metropolitan Police Office burning, Tokyo, Japan.
Metropolitan Police Office burning at Marunouchi, near Hibiya Park, Tokyo

Aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake

About 60 aftershocks were also recorded after the initial mega-quake in the weeks following the disaster.

The total number of dead exceeded 100,000, with almost 2 million made homeless in the greater Tokyo area.

A subsequent disaster took an all-too-human form in a post-quake massacre of Korean residents. This was spurred by rumors that Koreans were taking advantage of the disorder to commit arson, robbery and the poisoning of wells.

Vigilante hysteria led to the murder of at least 2,500 people, mainly Korean residents, but including some Chinese, Okinawans, and even some Japanese with the misfortune of speaking with regional accents.

Martial law had already been declared, and the Japanese police and army were mobilized to protect Koreans after reports of the atrocities had been circulated overseas. Over 360 people were charged with such crimes.

After the earthquake, Tokyo's road and train infrastructure was completely rebuilt, and parks were established throughout the city to act as areas of refuge in the case of future earthquake disasters.

Memorial Museum for the Kanto Earthquake Disaster, Ryogoku, Tokyo.
Reconstruction Memorial Hall for the Kanto Earthquake Disaster, Ryogoku, Tokyo

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