japan's most devastating earthquake -- 7/09/19

Today's selection -- from The Big Ones by Dr. Lucy Jones. Japan's 1923 earthquake:

"Earthquakes are as central to Japan, its history, and its culture as Mount Fuji or the emperor. With a frequency of earthquakes three times that of California's, Japan has been devastated by earth­quakes, and their resulting tsunamis, repeatedly through its history. ...

"One of the deadliest earthquakes ever to ravage Japan was the 1923 Kanto earthquake of magnitude 7.9 that destroyed most of Tokyo and Yokohama and killed over 140,000 people. ...

"On September 1, 1923, at 11:58 a.m., an earthquake began that, in every sense, shook the foundation of Japanese society. ... Many of those people had returned to their homes for the noon meal and were cooking over open-flame stoves. ...

"Within minutes of the initial earthquake, fires had started across Tokyo and Yokohama. Large aftershocks in the first ten minutes, some above magnitude 7, impeded efforts to control the flames. People tried, but as the fires raged, they were left with no choice but to flee. This mass exodus clogged the streets. Survivors told stories of being trapped for hours, unable to move. A house of courtesans had prevented the women from fleeing, afraid they would run away and not return, leading to more than one hundred women burn­ing to their death within. Many drowned in the Sumida River after jumping in to escape approaching flames. More than forty thou­sand people took refuge at a large open space at the Honjo Military Clothing Depot.

"Intense fire can create its own atmospheric conditions and windstorms. Called fire tornadoes (or, translated from Japanese, dragon twists), the heated air rising off a fire hits turbulent wind conditions, forming a whirlwind of fire that spreads the destruc­tion faster and farther. Dragon twists were spawned across Tokyo. One bore down on the Honjo Clothing Depot. Only two thousand of the forty thousand huddled within survived. Many were burned alive while others suffocated in the superheated, deoxygenated air. ...

A view of the destruction in Yokohama

"In Yokohama, more than 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed. In Tokyo, about four hundred thousand buildings, including the houses of 60 percent of the population, were lost. The death toll was at least 140,000 people. ...

"In the face of loss and failure -- no less a failure of this magnitude­ -- we often turn to blame. ... Because of Japan's self-imposed isolation from the outside world, foreigners -- gaijin, or 'outside persons' -- held a status in early-twentieth-century Japan that could be described as less than human. Of foreigners, the Koreans and Chinese had the most con­tact with Japan, with more dignity afforded the Chinese, perhaps because of the influence of Confucianism and Daoism on Japanese culture. The Koreans, meanwhile, had been subjected over many centuries to raids by both Japanese pirates and more official Japa­nese seamen, finally were conquered and colonized by Japan in 1910. As a colonial conquest, Korean workers were brought over to Japan to staff the demands of modernization, but they were denied a path to Japanese citizenship. Citizenship in Japan is carried out through patrilineal lines, recognizing each Japanese child as a descendant of the emperor. Koreans had no place in this scheme.

"As the leaderless government struggled to respond to the destruction of their capital and fires continued to rage across the city, both the government and its citizens turned on minority Kore­ans. Within hours of the earthquake, rumors had begun to spread that Koreans were planning an uprising. They were said to be setting fires, poisoning wells, raping, and looting. These messages spread as far as the island of Hokkaido, five hundred miles to the north.

"Many citizens wasted no time responding. Vigilantes, called jikeidan, armed mostly with makeshift weapons such as bamboo spears, carpentry tools, knives, and broken glass, attacked their Korean neighbors. On September 2, the newly installed prime min­ister declared martial law, moving troops into the affected region. Survivors tell of army units pulling Koreans off a train leaving the city and slaughtering them on the spot. At a minimum, police forces connived in the extermination; in some cases they actively participated. They moved to round up Koreans and confined them. It was justified as 'protection and apprehension,' though many of the people detained were then killed by vigilantes, in some cases inside police stations. ... Evidence shows that the government had an active role in spreading the misinformation."


 | www.delanceyplace.com

author:

Dr. Lucy Jones

title:

Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us

publisher:

Doubleday

date:

Copyright 2018 by Lucy Jones

pages:

77, 89-93
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