Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On this day in history...

On this day in 1923, a large earthquake struck O-shima, the large island just to the south of where I live. The timing of the quake, when cooking fires were going to prepare lunch, combined with winds from a nearby typhoon, caused nearly 100,000 deaths in the Kanto region. To put this in perspective, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake killed 3,000, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed 'hundreds'. Nearly all of Yokohama burned to the ground, as did Tokyo. The devastation in Tokyo can be seen above. This is the area that my friends Aaron and Molly stayed when they came to Tokyo. The Great Buddha in Kamakura, which I take nearly all visitors to see moved forward two feet (it weighs in at 93-tons). Reading through the list of places devastated on wikipedia, I recognize all of them, and have visited most. It's truly a reminder of how brutal nature can be, and how a perfect storm of circumstances can bring disaster.

Even worse, in the aftermath rumors blamed foreigners, mostly Koreans, for looting and robbery. Vigilante mobs attacked and killed Koreans as well as setting up checkpoints. Anyone who sounded different was attacked. This included not only Koreans and other foreigners, but people from other parts of Japan with strong accents. Police and the army attempted to protect the Koreans, but some officials were complicit in handing over Koreans to the mob. A number of civilians were prosecuted, but sentences were light and the rest were pardoned as part of the marriage ceremony of Prince Hirohito. The authorities also took advantage of the confusion to arrest and kill dissidents, such as socialists and anarchists.

Incidentally, we're about due for another giant earthquake in this area, as well as a big eruption from Mt. Fuji one of these days. They did estimates of what would happen, namely that any ash fallout from an eruption of Mt. Fuji would halt all transportation between there and Tokyo. That's around 20 million people that will be unable to drive or use mass transit. I better start stockpiling canned peaches.

(The reason the deaths were so much higher in Japan than the other disasters is that most houses were made of wood and charcoal fires were used for cooking. This combination caused a firestorm. For some reason, the Japanese didn't learn not to build things out of wood, which meant that when Curtis LeMay was set loose on Japan, we ended up with this.)

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