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Tokyo Earthquake of 1923

Tokyo Earthquake of 1923

(Kanto Daishinsai; literally, "Great Tokyo Earthquake). Earthquake in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures that struck at 11:58 AM on 1 September 1923. Damage was most extensive in the seven prefectures of Tokyo Kanagawa, Chiba, Ibaraki, Saitama, Yamanashi, and Shizuoka. The quake, which has since been assigned a magnitude of 7.9 on the scale used by the Meteorological Agency of Japan (see EARTHQUAKES), was followed by another severe tremor 24 hours later and by several hundred minor tremors. The intense fires that ensued-raging for almost two full days in Tokyo-did more damage than the quakes themselves: in Tokyo 63.2 percent of homes were destroyed (only 0.9 percent by the tremors and rest by fire), and in Yokohama, which was closer to the epicenter, 72.5 percent were destroyed (9.8 percent by the tremors).

At the time the first quake occurred many people were preparing their noon meals over charcoal fires. The tremor scattered the coals, and fires, fanned by a steady breeze, spread rapidly and developed into firestorms. Intensely heated air rose to a high altitude, creating a partial vacuum that drew fresh air into the fires at ground level. The winds thus created were estimated at 70-80 kilometers (43-50 rni) per hour. Associated with the firestorms were cyclones that were especially deadly because they consisted primarily of superheated air from which most of the oxygen had been burned. One cyclone passed over the grounds of the Military Clothing Dept in Honjo, where many had sought refuge, and some 38,000 people died of suffocation. It is estimated that the total population of the affected areas was about 11,758,000 and that 3,248,205 people had their homes damaged or destroyed by the quakes or by fire. A total of 142,807 people were reported dead or missing and 103,733 injured.

The disaster destroyed city services and paralyzed administrative functions. Water mains and hydrants were ruptured and unavailable for firefighting; telephone and telegraph systems were knocked out, and even radio communication with the rest of the country was difficult, forcing the government to rely on military aircraft and carrier pigeons. The government itself was in disarray: Prime Minister KATO TOMOSABURO had died on 24 August, and on 2 September polit~cians hastily formed a new cabinet led by YAMAMOTO GONNOHYOE. The disruption and anxiety caused by the disaster gave rise to hysteria and malicious rumors that Koreans were lighting fires and poisoning wells. Several thousand Koreans, many Chinese, and some Japanese were killed by organized neighborhood vigilante groups before order was restored.

The new cabinet had quickly declared martial law, and some 35,000 troops were dispatched into the disa ter area. However, certain elements took advantage of the confusion to eliminate leftist radicals. Military police killed 10 labor union activists in the KAMEIDO INCIDENT of 4 September, and on 16 September anarchist OSUGI SAKAE, his wife, ITO NOE, and his six-year-old nephew also died at the hands of military police. These two incidents exemplify the breakdown of order in the devastated capital region even among those sworn to uphold it.
(From Encyclopedia of Japan)