Tokyo (1923-1933) I Governmental impacts on the Society after the Earthquake

Tokyo (1923-1933) I Governmental impacts on the Society after the Earthquake

The anniversary of the Great Kantō Earthquake is influential enough to the Japanese since it was also declared as the National Disaster Prevention Day. Due to the devastating impacts of the Great Kanto Earthquake, every Tokyoite would remember this forever, as well as put more efforts on eliminating the damage and educate their next generations by learning from the history.

Few weeks after the earthquake, while the rescuing and medical measures were on the right track, the Japanese government started introducing the memorial and religious activities in the Honjo district in Tokyo (Schencking, 2013) [Figure 1]. The activities aimed to pray for and remember the dead and conciliate the mentality of the survivors, by comforting them and giving them hopes. The politicians’ speech in each ceremony included their over time policies and political visions of the future, permeating through people’s minds. Those ceremonies were at the same time a stage for advertisement of the politicians after the earthquake, as well as a tool to motivate the city to flourish again. One year later of the disaster in 1924, Kato Takaaki, the Prime Minister of Japan, introduced the plan of national reconstruction by provoking thrift, diligence and moderation (Schencking, 2013). By encouraging the habits of extravagance, citizens should be able to share responsibility for saving the country from the extremely difficult period of time. Due to the frequent government promotion and appeal, the government started to change and influence people unobtrusively and imperceptibly on their post-quake mentality and movement, as well as unified the spirits of the nation even after the destruction of the city.

Figure 1 – Mortuary tablets in Honjo Clothing Depot (source from

Apart from the intangible impacts on the society, there was a memorial construction built after the Great Kanto Earthquake, providing a place to contain the history of this tragedy and commemorate the dead in the earthquake. The Taisho Earthquake Disaster Memorial Project Association was founded by the municipal government in June 1924 to carry out the construction of an earthquake memorial (Schencking, 2013). Picking Honjo Clothing Depot as the site, Maeda Kenjiro was awarded the designer of the memorial hall (Weisebbfeld, 2012). Made of reinforced concrete, his design was a 53-meter high tower including 10-storey and a basement. As one of the features, a sacred white marble pillar represented the spirits of the dead. However, due to the overwhelming westernization of the architecture, there was strong public opposition against Maeda’s memorial hall design, leading to the abolishment of the design. (Click here to know more about the impacts of westernization after Earthquake) Finally, a design appealed to a Japanese and Buddhist-styled architecture replaced his design and was constructed [Figure 2]. Neglecting local Japanese’s values on religions and spirits, the government’s implementation brought an intense objection in the society. An architecture should not only be able to represent its own design concept, but also to contain the needs of the general public, especially in memory of an influential tragedy.

Figure 2 – Tokyo Memorial Hall (source from Panoramio)

Holding memorial events, motivating people through speeches and constructing the memorial hall were all the political means of the Japanese government to achieve the goal of gaining support from the society. After a devastating earthquake, political instability might easily happen due to social grievance or rebellion. Therefore, in order to prevent those incidents, the Japanese government imposed such measures, as well was shaped the societal mentality and attitude. Even decades after the Kanto earthquake, politicians were also eager to evoke the memory of this disaster, as a means of encouraging people to support their political or ideological stance.

To conclude, post-earthquake memorial events or implementation were not a simple act that only brought explicit impacts, while these could be a deep-rooted influence on the city, as well as the citizens’ minds.



[1] Schencking, J C. 2013. The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan. New York: Columbia University Press.

[2] Weisebbfeld, G. 2012. Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923. University of California Press.

1 Comment on “Tokyo (1923-1933) I Governmental impacts on the Society after the Earthquake

  1. Talking on the topic of memorial architecture, it reminds me of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that was designed by Maya Lin in Washington. The project was a simple landscape design with a memorial wall shapes like a wound on the earth surface. I agree that memorial architecture is not only trying to comfort the local people right after the disaster has happened but is also an effort to demonstrate the the human being , although h unable to fight against certain forces such as the nature, is till trying to restore peace or allow people to rely on something tangible, which often is a building. After years, the disaster would still be remembered as well as the peace that is bought by the architecture.

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