Kanto Earthquake Japan

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Behind The Scenes Of The Great Kanto Earthquake: The Real Significance Of The Kanto Earthquake And What We Need To Learn From It

On the 1st of every September, the country of Japan celebrates the Disaster Prevention Day, a day of safety measures and drills, commemorating the great earthquake that struck the Kanto region of the country on the same date back in 1923. The damage to property and lives caused by the earthquake singles it out as one of the most­ destructive events in the history of Japan. We have all read personal accounts of survivors and government reports about the incident, the aftermath and the relief efforts but few of us have a clear idea as to the kind of society Japan was before the earthquake, where the real significance of this disaster lies and how those changes are reflected in the modern day Japanese society today. This article intends to develop a sense of understanding as to how the earthquake changed the thought process in Japan, revealed insights into the Japanese society, presented a remarkable opportunity to rebuild and by drawing parallels with the Tohoku earthquake of March 2011, serves to inform the readers how we need to learn from our mistakes. Japan in the 1920s was a country on its way towards modernization. The gap between the poor and the elite classes had risen considerably with the latter class having a highly luxurious lifestyle. The city of Tokyo had seen its population almost double in a short span of time and the living conditions of the people who inhabited the outskirts of the capital city were quite poor. Hence the timing of the earthquake meant that it was pivotal in bringing about these social problems of inequality and urbanization to the surface. The tremor was of a massive magnitude of 7.9 but it was the resulting fires from the earthquake that killed the majority. The Hanjo clothing depot, where the memorial hall for the victims of this tragedy lies today, was engulfed in a firestorm which took the lives of about 35000 people. Roads, houses and bridges broke down which coupled with the resulting panic made evacuation extremely difficult. Breakages in water supply meant a delay in the process of taking down the fires. Kawatake Shigetoshi, one of the survivors of the earthquake from Honjo, gave an account of the scenario in words such as ‘Nobody knew where to go’, and ‘the whole area was a blazing inferno’. The tensions between the Japanese and the Koreans inhabiting the Kanto region also reached their peak in the aftermath of the disaster when the Koreans were blamed of further killing the Japanese by actions such as poisoning wells. The death toll from the sequence of events which continued for the next three to four days surpassed the figure of a hundred thousand people. A picture showing a scene from Tokyo after the earthquake

A brief understanding of the damage caused by the earthquake would lead to the agreement that the Japanese society in the 1920’s was quite ill prepared for an earthquake of such a magnitude. The vulnerabilities that existed in the society had made this hazard into a deadly natural disaster. Only a few years before the earthquake struck, Goto Shinpei, then mayor of Tokyo, had devised a plan to restructure the city only to see it get rejected by the parliament. The opposition to this plan wanted money to be spent on social welfare rather than on the already gleaming capital city of Tokyo. If that plan had been accepted and implemented, the Kanto Earthquake would have definitely not caused the damage it did. However after the earthquake, measures to restructure Tokyo to make it more earthquake resistant became necessary and plans were drawn up immediately by the authorities. Another equally important direct result or conclusion from the disaster was the perception of it as a punishment sent by the heavens for the extravagant and luxurious lifestyle that Japan enjoyed and a sign to alter the direction it was moving in. This belief was...
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