Japan is known for its earthquakes and quick recovery from the aftereffects. However, it was not the same way for Japan. In 1923, The Great Kanto Earthquake and its aftereffects destroyed the Yokohama part of Tokyo.
After the earthquake of magnitude 7.9, Japan also went through a hectic tsunami, some firestorms, and landslides. All of this havoc cost Japan a total of 100,000 lives and over 40,000 people went missing. As for the infrastructure, Yokohama lost almost one-tenth of its concrete buildings in the metropolitan area.
Most of the destroyed houses were the result of the earthquake or the fires that followed it. The tsunami hit the Sagami Gulf at Atami with waves of a height of 39.5 feet. It only made the death toll grow adding 60 to it. We can say that this was the worst natural disaster that befell the country.
D-day of the Earthquake
Yokohama, aka, the City of Silk was a Japanese beacon of optimism. The city was dotted with wooden houses across its landscape. And, about 100 years ago on 1st September 1923, the people of Yokohama and Tokyo felt a shock that lasted and changed them for years.
That day, a 60-by-60 mile segment of the Philippine oceanic plate ruptured about 6 miles below Sagami Bay. This plate crashed into the Eurasean continental plate about 30 miles from the south of Tokyo. The shockwaves created by this crash were felt by the people at the port of Yokohama.
A luxury steamship called Empress of Austria was all set to sail from Yokohama and a lot of people were there at the port to see off the passengers. It was supposed to go to Vancouver from there. The people heard the crashing sound and were transfixed for a moment, fear grasping them within.
Within seconds, the ground beneath them collapsed and led them to the waters. Following the crash, a gigantic wave of over 39 foot approached them and washed people off to the shore.
Within seconds, Yokohama was stripped of a vast region. The wooden houses and buildings collapsed on the watery surface, taking the lives of hundreds. A number of people died under the weight of debris. After spreading across the Kanto region, the shockwaves went ahead to reach Tokyo.
Sumida River’s east coast was a neighborhood of the poorer community. The people saw their homes burning down to ashes with horrified looks in their eyes. Some of them tried to escape the fire and ran towards the river. But they all drowned as the bridge over the river collapsed.
The people residing in the refugee camps near the coast hoped to live. However, their camp was surrounded by a fire tornado and a 30-foot-tall firewall was around them. Out of the total 44,000 people, only 300 survived. Within 48 hours, Tokyo looked haggard with destruction all around and the death toll was unspeakable.
Reconstruction of the Japan
The country not only lost the lives and infrastructure of the two most prevalent cities but also lost the peace. The chaos and panic have long settled in the hearts and minds of the localities.
The people who escaped the havoc spread rumors about it across the nation. Some said that Yokohama is all gone and washed away. Some even went up to say that Mount Fuji erupted or was about to erupt.
People even went ahead to blame the Korean minority and said that they looted the collapsed buildings. They even blamed that they set fire and poisoned the wells of the region. All these rumors caused violence among the people. The massacre seized the nation and over 10,000 Koreans died in the violence.
There were attempts to keep these killings under wraps, but after a few months, the newspapers criticized the events very harshly. And then, the Japanese Imperial Army had to send over 50,000 troops to restore the peace in the country.
Tokyo, which once was bustling with people was now changed into a city with temporary settlements where relief work was all that we could see. Reconstruction of 130 miles of road, 74 bridges, and collection of corpses was all going on in and around Tokyo and Yokohama.
However, Tokyo took an opportunity to rebuild its infrastructure and become a well-designed metropolitan. Now, this is how Japan turned the tide.
Changes in Japan after The Great Kanto Earthquake
Those in power like politicians, religious leaders, and other local leaders took this as an opportunity to display their disdain for the modern state. They claimed that the calamity was a punishment from the heavens for the moral decline happening in the country. They started to propagate the idea of the Meji-era where qualities like loyalty, obedience, frugality, and sacrifice prevailed.
The political agenda took a turn in the midst of the chaos. Before the earthquake, the public was heavily influenced by the left wing. However, this turned the tide and the right-wingers got a chance to fuel people.
Meanwhile, the new Tokyo that was developing was envisioned as a grand city. The new Tokyo came out as a rebirth after the disaster. The hopes for reconstruction were held high and people looked forward to the nation’s future.
Though a hope for a vital and vibrant city was in the hearts of people it would take years to regain the charm of the place. The Great Kanto Earthquake changed Japan for the good in terms of landscape. However, the lives that were lost will be mourned forever.