Education About Asia: Online Archives

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the Japanese Nation

Download PDF

In the autumn of 1923, educator Miura Tosaku toured the remains of a thoroughly destroyed city: Tokyo. Walking through the once vibrant, now blackened and broken remains of Japan’s capital, Miura concluded in no uncertain terms that the recent disaster that struck Japan was a moment of apocalyptic revelation. “Disasters,” he wrote, “take away the falsehood and ostentation of human life and conspicuously expose the strengths and weaknesses of human society.”1 The disaster in question was the Great Kanto Earthquake, the anniversary of which today—September 1—all Japanese know as Natural Disaster Prevention Day. In less than one week, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent fires annihilated most of Tokyo and virtually all of Yokohama. Moreover, the earthquake caused nearly 6.5 billion yen of damage, a remarkable figure roughly four times larger than Japan’s national budget for 1922. The earthquake disaster was also a human calamity, resulting in the deaths of more than 110,000 individuals and leaving nearly 1.5 million homeless. The destruction, dislocation, and devastation caused by the quake, in the words of Tenrikyo relief worker Haruno Ki’ichi, not only defied description, it simply “surpassed imagination.”