1923 Great Kantō earthquake

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The 1923 Great Kanto earthquake (関東大震災 Kantō daishinsai?) struck the Kanto plain on the Japanese main island of Honshū at 11:58 on the morning of September 1, 1923. The quake was later estimated to have had a magnitude between 7.9 and 8.4 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre under Sagami Bay. Varied accounts hold that the duration was between 4 and 10 minutes. It devastated Tokyo, the port city of Yokohama, surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Shizuoka, and caused widespread damage throughout the Kanto region.

According to most reliable sources, at least 105,385 lost their lives and over 37,000 went missing, presumed dead.


[edit] Post-quake violence

The panic and confusion created by the earthquake led to numerous false rumours spreading both inside and outside of the affected regions. Various Japanese newspaper articles carried confused stories such as the total annihilation of Tokyo, the entire Kanto region sinking into the sea, destruction of Izu islands due to volcanic eruptions, the Japanese cabinet getting wiped out, or a monster tsunami reaching as far inland as Mount Akagi (at the northernmost corner of the Kanto Plain, almost halfway across the width of the country.)

The Home Ministry declared martial law, and ordered each section police chief to put the maintenance of order and security as a priority. One of the messages was that "There are some Koreans who are taking advantage of this disaster, committing arson as part of robberies within Tokyo. Some of them possess bombs. Tokyo is under martial law and each area (of police force) should be extremely vigilant about Korean activities." Some newspapers reported this message. This started the deadliest rumour of all, that Koreans are rioting, committing looting and arson, and most importantly, poisoning wells. The numerous fires and cloudy well water (a little-known effect of a big quake) all seemed to confirm the rumours in the eyes of the fear-stricken survivors living in the rubble. Vigilante groups set up roadblocks in cities, towns and villages across the region. Because people with Korean accents pronounced "G" or "J" in the beginning of words differently, 15円 50銭 (jū-go-en, go-jū-sen) and がぎぐげご (gagigugego) were used as shibboleths. Anyone who failed to pronounce them properly was deemed Korean. Some were told to leave, but many were beaten or killed. Moreover, anyone mistakenly identified as Korean, such as Chinese, Okinawans, and Japanese speakers of some regional dialects, suffered the same fate.

In response to this, the Japanese Army and the police conducted operations to protect Koreans. More than 2,000 Koreans were taken in for protection from the mobs across the region, although recent studies have shown that there were incidents where army and police personnel are known to have condoned or even colluded in the vigilante killings in some areas. The chief of police of Tsurumi (or Kawasaki by some accounts) is reported to have publicly drunk the well-water to disprove the rumour that Koreans have been poisoning wells. In some towns, even police stations into which Koreans had escaped were attacked by mobs, whereas in other neighbourhoods residents took steps to protect them. The Army distributed flyers denying the rumour and warning civilians against attacking Koreans, but in many cases vigilante activity only ceased as a result of Army operations against it.

The total death toll from these disturbances is uncertain; according to the investigation by the Home Ministry, confirmed victims of vigilante justice were 231 Koreans killed and 43 injured, 3 Chinese killed, 59 Japanese (including Okinawans) killed and 43 injured. Actual estimates range as high as 6,600, although politically independent studies put the figure at just over 2,500. Three hundred and sixty-two Japanese civilians were eventually charged (for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and assault), though most got off with nominal sentences, and even those who were sent to jail were later released with a general pardon commemorating the marriage of Prince Hirohito. In contrast, the actual number of Koreans who were charged for crimes during this period were 2 for murder, 3 for arson, 6 for robbery and 3 for rape.

All of those charged with the killings were civilians, despite the fact that some military and police units are now known to have taken part in the crimes, prompting accusations of a cover-up.

On top of this violence, Socialists like Hirasawa Keishichi, anarchists like Osugi Sakae and Ito Noe, and Chinese communal leader, Ou Kiten, were abducted and killed by members of the police who claimed the victims had intended to use the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow the Japanese government.

The importance of obtaining and providing accurate information following natural disasters has been emphasized in Japan ever since. Earthquake preparation literature in modern Japan almost always directs citizens to "carry a portable radio and use it to listen to reliable information, and [not to] be misled by rumours" in the event of a big quake.

[edit] Aftermath

Following the devastation of the earthquake, some in government considered the possibility of moving the capital elsewhere. Possible candidates suggested for the new capital included Himeji and Gyeongseong (Keijo in Japanese; present-day Seoul).

After the earthquake, Goto Shinpei organized a reconstruction plan of Tokyo with modern networks of roads, trains, and public services. Parks were placed all over Tokyo to work as refuge spots and public buildings were constructed with stricter standards than private buildings to accommodate refugees. However, the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent destruction severely limited resources.

The IJN Amagi, lead ship of its class of proposed battlecruisers, had been slated for rebuilding to an aircraft carrier following the Washington Naval Treaty. However, it was damaged beyond repair in the earthquake, and its sister ship, the Akagi was taken as replacement, rising to fame in World War II.

In 1960, September 1 was designated as Disaster Prevention Day to commemorate the earthquake and remind people of the importance of preparation, as September and October are the middle of the typhoon season. Schools, public and private organizations host disaster drills. Tokyo is located near a fault line beneath the Izu peninsula which, on average, causes a major earthquake about once every 70 years. Every year on this date, schools across Japan take a moment of silence at the precise time the earthquake hit in memory of the lives lost during this tragic event.

There are low-key memorial facilities in a small park in Sumida ward, Tokyo, at the site of the open space in which 30,000 people were killed by a single firestorm. The park houses a Buddhist-style memorial hall/museum, a memorial bell donated by Taiwanese Buddhists, a memorial to the victims of World War II Tokyo air raids and a memorial to the Korean victims of the vigilante killings .

[edit] External links

de:Großes Kantō-Erdbeben es:Terremoto del Gran Kanto de 1923 fr:Tremblement de terre de Kantō de 1923 ko:간토 대지진 id:Gempa bumi besar Kanto ja:関東大震災 no:Kanto-jordskjelvet su:Lini gedé Kanto 1923 sv:Stora Kanto-jordbävningen zh:關東大地震

1923 Great Kantō earthquake

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