Post WW1 Japan


On 1 September 1923, what we believe might be the worst earthquake ever, hit the Kanto plain and completely leveled Tokyo, Yokohama and the surroundings. About 140,000 people fell victim to this earthquake and the blazing fires caused by it.


The earthquake struck at 11:58:44 a.m. Professor A. Imamura, the head of the seismological observatory at the University of Tokyo, was at his desk at the time. His moment by moment description of ground motion is found in John Freeman's Earthquake Damage and Earthquake Insurance and is quoted here :


“When the quake began, Professor Imamura was seated in his study and noted that the first movement was rather slight and feeble, so that he did not take it to be the forerunner of so big a shock. He began to estimate the duration of the preliminary tremors and endeavored to ascertain the direction of the principal movements. Soon the vibration became large, and after three or four seconds from the time of commencement, he felt the shock very strongly indeed. Seven or eight seconds passed and the building was shaking to an extraordinary extent, but he considered these movements not yet to be the principal portion. When he counted the twelfth second from the start, there arrived a very strong vibration which he took at once to be the beginning of the principal portion. Now, the motion instead of becoming less and less, as usual, went on to increase its intensity very quickly, and after four or five seconds he felt it to have reached the strongest.”


No less ferocious in nature than the earthquake itself was the conflagration that followed. When the earthquake struck, coal or charcoal cooking stoves were in use throughout Tokyo and Yokohama in preparation for the noon-time meal and fires sprang up everywhere within moments of the quake. Improper storage of chemicals and fuel further contributed to the mass devastation. In Yokohama alone, 88 separate fires began to burn simultaneously and the city was quickly engulfed in flames that raged for two days. Although the recorded wind speed was lower in Yokohama than in Tokyo, fire-induced wind created numerous cyclones, which further spread the flames. In Tokyo, the winds reached incredible speeds of 17.9 miles per hour and became the chief obstacle to containing the fire. Temperatures rised to 86 degrees Fahrenheit late into the night.


The casualties from the fires were a horrifying combination of people who were trapped in collapsed buildings and those who took refuge in areas that were later surrounded and consumed by fire. The greatest loss of life occurred at the Military Clothing Depot in Honjo Ward, where many of the refugees had gathered. Most of them carried clothing, bedrolls, and furniture rescued from their homes. These materials served as a ready fuel source, and the engulfing flames suffocated an estimated 40,000 people in the clothing depot.


With the world war ending 6 years ago…it would seem Japans population is decreasing steadily everyday, and the dangers we face are manmade and natural disaster.