Facts and Effects on Tokyo and Its Citizens (Japanese and Overseas) After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake
Browse articles:
Auto Beauty Business Culture Dieting DIY Events Fashion Finance Food Freelancing Gardening Health Hobbies Home Internet Jobs Law Local Media Men's Health Mobile Nutrition Parenting Pets Pregnancy Products Psychology Real Estate Relationships Science Seniors Sports Technology Travel Wellness Women's Health
Browse companies:
Automotive Crafts, Hobbies & Gifts Department Stores Electronics & Wearables Fashion Food & Drink Health & Beauty Home & Garden Online Services & Software Sports & Outdoors Subscription Boxes Toys, Kids & Baby Travel & Events

Facts and Effects on Tokyo and Its Citizens (Japanese and Overseas) After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake

Until 2011 this earthquake was the most deadly earthquake to have struck Japan in its history as well as being on record as the most powerful tremor to have affected the region. It struck at 11.58am on the 1st of September 1923, lasting from 4 to 10 minutes on Japans largest and most heavily populated island of Honshu.

The Great Kanto earthquake was measured as being of magnitude 7.9; it caused a rupture deep beneath Sagami Bay after the Philippine Plate had collided with the Okhotsk Plate. Much of Tokyo was devastated as well as the port city of Yokohama and smaller surrounding cities with much of the Kanto region suffering severe damage and loss of life. The power of the tremor can be measured in that the Great Buddha statue located over 60 km from the epicentre at Kamakura and weighing 93 tons was moved two feet (0.6 of a metre) from its previous position.

The city of Tokyo had an estimated 70,000 of its citizens perish out of the regions loss of over 140,000. In addition to this another 40,000 were reported missing and presumed to be dead although no remains were ever found. In 1960 the 1st of September was declared as Disaster Prevention Day and every year on this date those that perished are remembered.

The earthquake struck at lunchtime on a Saturday and many people were at home cooking or preparing a midday meal. The biggest cause of death was not the earthquake itself but the fires that developed after gas mains became ruptured. High winds further fuelled the flames as water mains were also damaged it took two days to bring the fires fully under control.

Those that were not consumed by fire had other catastrophes to contend with; landslides caused major devastation in the mountainous locations outside the city. One village of Nebukawa suffered from a passing train containing approximately 100 passengers, the railway station and village all being swept into the sea as the mountainside gave way after the tremor.

A tsunami developed offshore bringing with it waves up to ten metres higher than normal and resulting in hundreds of deaths in many coastal areas. Of those that survived close to 2 million were left homeless after over 500,000 homes were destroyed, many survivors were evacuated to other regions of Japan that had been left unaffected by the quake. In total there were an additional 57 aftershocks recorded following the initial tremor.

In the days following the earthquake the Japanese government declared a state of martial law and the police were ordered to maintain security. A rumour developed that Koreans residing in the region were responsible for acts of arson and looting. Vigilante groups began actively hunting down people of Korean descent across this region of Japan. Koreans use a differing accent then Japanese and anyone that pronounced words incorrectly was deemed to be a Korean. Some were ordered to leave Japan despite it being their home; others less fortunate were beaten or murdered. Other groups of Asians were also rounded up including Chinese and Japanese speakers of differing regional dialects. Around 700 Chinese originating from Wenzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province were killed during these disturbances. There is now a monument in Wenzhou in memoriam to those originating from that city that lost their lives in what was effectively ethnic cleansing.

The Japanese army and police began protecting those under threat of these mobs, over 2000 were taken in for their protection although some incidents occurred where the police and army colluded with the vigilantes in killing those they were ordered to protect.

The numbers killed in these disturbances vary greatly, the Japanese stated that 231 Koreans were killed and another 43 injured. They also claim only 3 Chinese were killed and that 59 Japanese citizens were murdered. Although no official number of Chinese citizens killed exists apart from that of the Japanese, the Korean estimate is that there were between 2,500 and 6,600 of its citizens murdered.

At criminal trials held later 362 Japanese civilians were convicted of murder, attempted murder, and other lesser charges. Most of those convicted received sentences that were not sufficient for the charges held against them. Those that were jailed were later given a full pardon and released. None of those charged with murder came from the military or police resulting in claims of corruption and at best a cover-up. Adding to these claims were the arrests and disappearances of Japanese and Chinese socialists and anarchists as being enemies of the state.

Since these events the Japanese government has conducted efforts to educate its citizens into listening to reliable information in the event of future earthquakes and to not listen to rumours. Citizens are urged to carry small portable radios to use for obtaining vital information not so much if, but when the next major earthquake strikes the region.

Additional resources:

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
in History on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in History?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (4)

Excellent account of a devastating and sad time Tokyo..voted

Great and informative share. Thanks John

Very sad, interesting about the killings though, wonder what did really happen.

Great information.