(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)