The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan

The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan

J. CHARLES SCHENCKING
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 400
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/sche16218
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    The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan
    Book Description:

    In September 1923, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated eastern Japan, killing more than 120,000 people and leaving two million homeless. Using a rich array of source material, J. Charles Schencking tells for the first time the graphic tale of Tokyo's destruction and rebirth. In emotive prose, he documents how the citizens of Tokyo experienced this unprecedented calamity and explores the ways in which it rattled people's deep-seated anxieties about modernity. While explaining how and why the disaster compelled people to reflect on Japanese society, he also examines how reconstruction encouraged the capital's inhabitants to entertain new types of urbanism as they rebuilt their world.

    Some residents hoped that a grandiose metropolis, reflecting new values, would rise from the ashes of disaster-ravaged Tokyo. Many, however, desired a quick return of the city they once called home. Opportunistic elites advocated innovative state infrastructure to better manage the daily lives of Tokyo residents. Others focused on rejuvenating society -- morally, economically, and spiritually -- to combat the perceived degeneration of Japan. Schencking explores the inspiration behind these dreams and the extent to which they were realized. He investigates why Japanese citizens from all walks of life responded to overtures for renewal with varying degrees of acceptance, ambivalence, and resistance. His research not only sheds light on Japan's experience with and interpretation of the earthquake but challenges widespread assumptions that disasters unite stricken societies, creating a "blank slate" for radical transformation. National reconstruction in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake, Schencking demonstrates, proved to be illusive.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53506-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  4. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XV-XXIV)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)

    The first seismic wave hit eastern Japan at two minutes to noon on Saturday, September 1, 1923. It toppled structures, crushed people, and unsettled everyone who survived. Within minutes, a second intense wave battered the already suffering region. This tremor killed scores more and triggered panic not seen before in Japan’s imperial capital. Over the next seventy-two hours, roughly two hundred major aftershocks and a series of diabolical conflagrations unleashed pandemonium, killed tens of thousands, and incinerated large swaths of Tokyo and Yokohama. Both cities had been transformed into scorched, broken, and almost unrecognizable wrecks. The smell of death and...

  6. One CATACLYSM: THE EARTHQUAKE DISASTER AS A LIVED AND REPORTED EXPERIENCE
    (pp. 13-46)

    In the early days of September 1923, novelist Uno Kōji followed a well-trodden path. It was a course taken by many Tokyoites who were considered lucky because they had survived. The path eventually led Uno to the hills of Ueno Park. The writer did not enter the would-be sanctuary—as many had done—to place or read a missing persons notice on the iconic statue of Saigō Takamori. Rather, he was drawn to the place out of a desire to observe, record, and reflect. The object of his gaze was Tokyo, or what remained of the once vibrant imperial capital....

  7. Two AFTERMATH: THE ORDEAL OF RESTORATION AND RECOVERY
    (pp. 47-77)

    Yamanashi Hanzō possessed many attributes among Japanese military men that made him unique. Born in 1864 in what would later become Kanagawa Prefecture, he rose steadily through the ranks of the military without clan or geographic ties to the powerful political domains of Chōshū or Satsuma, which had traditionally dominated Japan’s military. What Yamanashi lacked in military pedigree, however, he more than made up for with experience. He was a seasoned soldier who saw combat during Japan’s first three major wars: the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, and the First World War. Upon promotion...

  8. Three COMMUNICATION: CONSTRUCTING THE EARTHQUAKE AS A NATIONAL TRAGEDY
    (pp. 78-115)

    On October 19, 1923, over 200,000 people gathered at a spot near the eastern banks of the Sumida River in central Tokyo. Tearful spectators and solemn participants filled an area that had once comprised the Honjo Clothing Depot and an open expanse of land owned by the Yasuda family. For over four hours, people listened to speeches, gave offerings to the spirits of the dead, and at times wailed uncontrollably at the epicenter of Japan’s earthquake calamity. Forty-nine days earlier, nearly forty thousand Tokyoites had suffered a ghastly, terror-filled death at this now hallowed site. Survivors, relatives of those who...

  9. Four ADMONISHMENT: INTERPRETING CATASTROPHE AS DIVINE PUNISHMENT
    (pp. 116-152)

    On Friday, August 31, 1923, Hanayashiki—the heart of the entertainment district of Asakusa, Tokyo—was a place of merriment. As on almost every evening, crowds of Tokyoites, often from the poorest neighboring wards of Fukagawa, Honjo, and Asakusa itself, flocked to this bustling locale. Joined by other pleasure seekers of all ages from near and far, nearly everyone who ventured to Asakusa entered a realm of and for the senses. To many, Asakusa embodied a state of being and a condition of gratification. Food and drink of every type could be purchased and consumed. Those wishing to be entertained...

  10. Five OPTIMISM: DREAMS FOR A NEW METROPOLIS AMID A LANDSCAPE OF RUIN
    (pp. 153-186)

    After touring Tokyo’s devastated landscape in autumn 1923, politician Wakatsuki Reijirō confessed that he was overcome by many emotions. Wakatsuki’s feelings ranged from sheer disbelief at the enormity of destruction and displeasure over the chaos and disorder that engulfed Tokyo, to a profound sadness over the loss of life, property, and assets. The capital, he reflected, was left in an utterly miserable state. “Amid the ash and ruins,” however, Wakatsuki also felt something stronger. What he felt most acutely was a sense of opportunity, if not full-fledged optimism. “Now,” he wrote in the November 1923 edition of Toshi kōron, “we...

  11. Six CONTESTATION: THE FRACTIOUS POLITICS OF RECONSTRUCTION PLANNING
    (pp. 187-225)

    Within hours of becoming Japan’s fortieth home minister on September 2, 1923, Gotō Shinpei shared his aspirations with his predecessor, Mizuno Rentarō. Though much of Tokyo was a smoldering wreck, Gotō informed Mizuno that he looked beyond the destruction, death, and suffering and beheld an opportunity to transform Japan’s capital into an awe-inspiring modern metropolis. “Now,” he told Mizuno, “was our best chance to completely remodel and reconstruct Tokyo.”¹ Gotō, in fact, predicted that his tenure as home minister would be defined by lasting accomplishments. Under his leadership, Gotō claimed that fellow political elites and the people of Japan would...

  12. Seven REGENERATION: FORGING A NEW JAPAN THROUGH SPIRITUAL RENEWAL AND FISCAL RETRENCHMENT
    (pp. 226-262)

    Munakata Itsurō was a lifelong advocate of discipline, training, simplicity, and fortitude. Born in 1866, Munakata devoted his career and much of his spare time to two pursuits that he believed were interconnected on an intimate level: education and the martial art of judō. From his first formal teaching position as headmaster of Omura Junior High School in Nagasaki (1893) to his appointment at the Tokyo Advanced Teacher Training School (1907) to his final post as headmaster at the Sendai First Junior High School (1916), Munakata championed the philosophy that mental development, physical prowess, and character could be cultivated best...

  13. Eight READJUSTMENT: REBUILDING TOKYO FROM THE ASHES
    (pp. 263-300)

    In May 1924 Nagata Hidejirō began one of his most important public relations campaigns as mayor of Tokyo with a tour. Unlike previous trips taken in late 1923, Nagata did not focus his energies on surveying destruction or consoling victims. Rather he spoke about the future. He stressed the importance of all Tokyoites working together to rebuild the capital. Nagata’s objective was to convince his fellow citizens to embrace the idea of land readjustment (kukaku seiri) as a way to rationalize plots of land, if not whole neighborhoods in Tokyo. Land readjustment, or so Nagata claimed, could enable the city...

  14. Nine CONCLUSION
    (pp. 301-316)

    On March 24, 1930, more than a million Tokyoites participated in the opening act of what became a weeklong series of events held to celebrate Tokyo’s rebirth. Beginning just after sunrise, throngs of people gathered near the imperial palace hoping to position themselves for a glimpse of the Shōwa Emperor as he embarked on a well-choreographed inspection tour of new Tokyo. Still more well-wishers packed the 35-kilometer tour route to wave flags and shout “banzai” as the emperor’s maroon motorcade drove past. Wherever they could, people congregated at more than half a dozen locations where the imperial entourage stopped to...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 317-346)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 347-362)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 363-374)