THE 1923 TOKYO EARTHQUAKE
On September 1, 1923, just before noon, an earthquake of magnitude 8.3
occurred near the densely populated, modern industrial cities of Tokyo
and Yokohama, Japan. The epicenter was placed in Sagami Bay, just southwest
of Tokyo Bay. Destruction ranged from far up into the Hakone mountains,
home to popular tourist resorts, to the busy shipping lanes of Yokohama Bay,
north to the city of Tokyo.
Though not the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan, the proximity to
Tokyo and Yokohama and the surrounding areas, with combined populations
numbering 2 million, made it one of the most devastating quakes ever to hit
Japan. Tokyo's principle business and industrial districts lay in ruins.
At a time when thousands of homes and restaurants had lit fires, mostly gas
ranges, for noon-day meal preparation, the quake hit, demolishing buildings
and toppling contents of the traditional wood and paper Japanese houses.
Flamable materials in the industrial plants and explosions at a munitions
factory helped fuel the flames at such a pace that the normally well-prepared
firefighters could not keep up. Broken water mains made water
unavailable to fight the fires.
Deaths were estimated at nearly 100,000, with an additional 40,000 missing.
Hundreds of thousands were left homeless in the resulting fires. Fires
in the Honjo and Fukagawa districts of Tokyo surrounded over 30,000 people who
took refuge in a large open area. The meager possessions they had fled
with became additional fuel for the firestorm and they were literally
incinerated on this spot.
The quake is remembered by Japanese authors as the Great Kanto Earthquake,
Kanto being the name of the region which includes Tokyo. The year of
the quake, 1923, is referred to as Year 12 of the Taisho Era, the 12th
year of Emperor Taisho's reign which lasted from 1912 - 1926.
Dahlmann, Joseph, S.J., Ph.D.The Great Tokyo Earthquake September 1,
1923. Experiences and Impressions of an Eye-Witness. The America
Press, 1924, pp. 130.
Richter, Charles, F. Elementary Seismology. W. H. Freeman and Co.,1958, pp. 768.
Below are a series of photos of damage to the city of Tokyo taken just after the
quake. They were reproduced in a collection of postcards. This collection was
taken from the archives of James B. Macelwane, S.J..
To view more photos, check out Photographs by August Kengelbacher, from Schauwecher's Guide to Japan.
- Image #1 - Fire near Yamashita bridge in Kyobashi district.
- Image #2 - Fire approaches Police Department headquarters.
- Image #3 - Refugees crowding Nippori train station platform.
- Image #4 - Aerial view of earthquake fires.
- Image #5 - Ginza St., before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #6 - Shimbashi Railroad Station, before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #7 - Manseibashi Rail Road Station, before / after earthquake.
- Image #8 - Nihonbashi district, before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #9 - Mitsukoshi Dept. Store, before / after earthquake.
- Image #10 - Ryogokubashi (bridge) before / after earthquake.
- Image #11 - Surface ruptures near Nijyubashi (bridge), before / after earthquake.
- Image #12 - Symbolic 12-story building (Jyunikai), before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #13 - Asakusa Park, #6 district, before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #14 - Kyobashi district, before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #15 - Brothel district Yoshiwara quarter, before / after earthquake.
- Image #16 - Kokugikan (National Sumo Wrestling arena) before / after earthquake.
- Image #17 - Scene of refugee camps in the Marunoushi area.
- Image #18 - Mitsukoshi Department Store (largest department store in Japan).
- Image #19 - Ueno Railroad station after fire.
- Image #20 - Scene of Kandabashi (bridge) disaster.
- Image #21 - Destruction of Kandabashi (bridge).
- Image #22 - Destruction of railroad in the Hakone tourist resort and spa area.
- Image #23 - Shiba district, viewed from top of Atago Mtn..
- Image #24 - Photo taken from Nihonbashi District, onto ruins of Meijiza Theatre.
- Image #25 - Downtown area, street cars, autos, burned.
- Image #26 - Ginza Street destruction (prosperous business strip).
- Image #27 - View of Shiodome Station and Government Center Post Office.
- Image #28 - Ueno Rail station destruction.
- Image #29 - Ashes of the some 33,000 dead.
- Image #30 - Destruction of Ginza Street (prosperous business strip).
- Image #31 - Destruction of area surrounding Manseibashi rail station.
- Image #32 - Destruction of Kokugikan, Ryogoku district.
- Image #33 - Ueno-Hirokoji Street, Ueno Park.
- Image #34 - Destruction of Kamakura Hachiman-gu, (700 year old shrine).
- Image #35 - Severe fires in Yurakucho area. Tokyo Electric Co. burns in distance.
- Image #36 - Mitsukoshi Bank in Tokyo.
- Image #37 - Refugees escaping fires.
- Image #38 - Area surrounding Tobashi bridge.
- Image #39 - Sapporo Brewery in Azumabashi district.
- Image #40 - Eitaibashi (bridge) destroyed by fire.
- Image #41 - Symbolic 12-story building (Jyunikai) in Asakusa Park theatre district.
- Image #42 - View from Nihonbashi district, near Mitsukoshi Dept. Store.
- Image #43 - Scene from Ginza Street.
- Image #44 - Destruction of iron bridge on river in Tokyo.
- Image #45 - Disaster at Fudomae in Fukagawa district.
- Image #46 - Matsuzakaya department store.
- Image #47 - Manseibashi Rail station.
- Image #48 - Rail station near bridge in Tokyo.
- Image #49 - Refugees trying to flee to home towns by train.
- Image #50 - Famous Teigeki theatre burns in fires.
- Image #51 - A once-prosperous Asakusa Park, now gone.
- Image #52 - Maruzen book store, literary source of western culture, burned.
- Image #53 - Destruction of government printing office and Tokyo Station.
- Image #54 - Ueno-Hirokoji St. in Ueno Park.
- Image #55 - Asakusa-Kanzeon statue miraculously left standing amidst ruins.
- Image #56 - Ueno Park, viewed from Kanda Railroad Station .
- Image #57 - View of Nakamise area in Asakusa district.
- Image #58 - Near Manseibashi railroad station.
- Image #59 - Destruction of Maruzen Co. on Nihonbashidori (ave.).
- Image #60 - Licensed brothel district in Yoshiwara quarter.
- Image #61 - Rice rationing on grounds of Honganji temple.
- Image #62 - Aerial view of Ginza district.
- Image #63 - Destruction of Eitaibashi (bridge).
- Image #64 - Manseibashi station in Kandasudamachi area.
- Image #65 - Scene of 300 casualties in Naigai building.
- Image #66 - Naigai building, where 300 people lost their lives.
- Image #67 - Looking toward Oshiage area.
- Image #68 - Area surrounding Matsuzakaya department store.
- Image #69 - Sapporo Brewery headquarters.
- Image #70 - (Japan's "Army Corps of Engineers") begins restoration.
- Image #71 - Disaster in Ginza district.
- Image #72 - View of "alley" behind Ginza Street.
- Image #73 - (Jyunikai) symbolic 12-story building in Asakusa District.
- Image #74 - Surface ruptures near Nijyubashi (bridge).
- Image #75 - Looking toward Kandasudamachi and Nikorai buildings.
- Image #76 - Area surrounding Nihonbashi (bridge).
- Image #77 - View above Nihonbashi district, looking toward Kanda district.
- Image #78 - Disaster at Maruzen building.
- Image #79 - Fire surrounds (Jyunikai) 12-story building in Asakusa District.
- Image #80 - Ground ruptured in Tsukiji area.
- Image #81 - Asakusanakamise area before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #82 - Tokyo convention center.
- Image #83 - Yurakucho area, before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #84 - Ueno railroad station before / after earthquake and fire.
- Image #85 - The Emperor's liason sent to inspect the devastation.
- Image #86 - Ochanomizu before / after earthquake and fire.
We gratefully acknowledge
Dr. Yeong-Jer Lin of our Meteorology faculty
for his help in translating the captions from Japanese to English.
Additional translation was provided by Koichiro Otani, Ph.D. student, School
of Public Health. Captions were precisely translated, whenever possible.
Any errors in spelling of the names and places are the responsibility
of the Earthquake Center.
Melanie L. Whittington
-Last updated August 26, 1999
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