Tokyo (1923) I The Great Kanto Earthquake – Goto Shinpei’s Golden Opportunity

Goto Shinpei was one of the main and most important figures from the Japanese political arena in the years before and after the Great Kanto Earthquake. From December 1920 to April 1923 he served as Tokyo’s mayor and he proposed numerous initiatives for urban renewal and social reform (most of which were met with political resistance or fiscal constraints), the most famous of which was the Outline of the Administration of Tokyo (Tokyo shisei yoko), better known as “the ¥800 million plan” (hachiokuen keikaku). In the plan Goto proposed major urban betterment with building new infrastructure and upgrading existing one [1]. Unfortunately for him and for the citizens of Tokyo the plan never came to fruition, mainly because of its extravagant budget.

Fig.1 Gotō Shinpei laying the foundation stone of the Tokyo Institute for Muncipal Research Building / Tokyo Public Hall

                  Source: http://www.greatkantoearthquake.com/reconstruction_gallery.html

Although Goto Shinpei had faced strong political resistance in Japan (unlike in Taiwan where he worked as chief of the civil government after 1898), after the earthquake on September 1st 1923, he was appointed Home Minister as part of the cabinet of Yamamoto Gonnohyoe. Goto saw the earthquake as a golden opportunity for the betterment of Tokyo and redeveloping it into a modern city [2], because most of central Tokyo was leveled with the ground and had do be build up anyway. Goto proposed the creation of a national government agency, The Imperial Capital Reconstruction Board (Teito Fukko-in), that could be in charge of the project. The agency was established on September 19 with Goto acting as its president. In the initial proposal for the reconstruction of the city Goto proclaimed the goals of it [2]:

  1. The Government has to agree publicly to keep Tokyo as the capital of Japan
  2. In the process of reconstruction modern planning and construction techniques will be used
  3. “Firm attitude” towards property owners, not letting individuals or landowners’ unions slow down the reconstruction process [3]
  4. Ambitious reconstruction programme with a budget of 3 billion yen and above [2]

Fig. 2 Great Kanto Earthquake reconstruction plan, 1923. This plan shows the primary and secondary trunk roads network built as part of the Tokyo Earthquake Reconstruction Project.

   Source: Andre Sorenson, The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and planning from Edo to the twenty-first century, (London and New York:     Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2002), 127.

After the Imperial Capital Reconstruction Board considered several spending plans, ranging up to 4 billion yen, they decided to develop two reconstruction plans at the same time Ko and Otsu (A and B), which focused mainly on transportation infrastructure (roads, canals and bridges), with price tags 1.3 and 1 billion yen. After these plans were presented to the Finance Ministry the budget was further cut to reach 702 million yen. After the announcement  of the new budget, Goto fought for revaluation, claiming that 702 million yen would be enough only for “restoring” old Tokyo and that was not the goal. After the plan for reconstruction with a budget of 702 million yen was presented to the Diet, the amount was cut once again to reach 598 and then 468 million yen [4]

Even though “Goto clearly wished to capitalise on the 1923 catastrophe and turn what was arguably a “national” disaster into a “national” reconstruction project” [5], because he believed that this was an opportunity “to not only rebuild the capital, but reconstruct the nation” [6], his programme was butchered by cutting the budget to one seventh of the initial amount and it became just another project for urban betterment of Tokyo that never came to fruition.

Was Goto Shinpei right to propose such an extravagant budget for the reconstruction of Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake?

Would Tokyo be a better city if his plan had come to fruition?

 

Bibliography

 

[1] J. Charles Schencking, The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan, (New York/Hong Kong: Columbia University Press/Hong Kong University Press, 2013), 153-86.

[2] Andre Sorenson, The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and planning from Edo to the twenty-first century, (London and New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2002), 126.

[3] J. Charles Schencking, Opportunism, Contestation: The Fractured Politics of Reconstructing Tokyo following the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923, (Cambridge University Press), Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 2006), 842.

[4] J. Charles Schencking, Opportunism, Contestation: The Fractured Politics of Reconstructing Tokyo following the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923, (Cambridge University Press), Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 2006), 843-69.

[5]  J. Charles Schencking, Opportunism, Contestation: The Fractured Politics of Reconstructing Tokyo following the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923, (Cambridge University Press), Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 2006), 847.

[6]  J. Charles Schencking, Opportunism, Contestation: The Fractured Politics of Reconstructing Tokyo following the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923, (Cambridge University Press), Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Oct., 2006), 852.

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