Japanese Studies at the Libraries has recently acquired a vast collection of postcards showing scenes from the Great Kantō Earthquake (関東大地震 Kantō daijishin). With over 600 in the set, the photographic images on the face of the cards provide an in-depth look at the progress and ensuing destruction, including the tragic deaths of an estimated 100,000 to 140,000 people, of this historic event. The postcards are in good condition and offer a valuable window on the many sites, from Tokyo to Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, and other prefectures on the Kantō Plain, affected by this disaster.

Sample Postcard Showing the Earthquake’s Destruction in Isezakichō, a district of Naka Ward in Yokohama

1923 Kantō Great Earthquake Postcards

The new collection is currently housed in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library (RBML). For those interested in viewing the collection, please contact Japanese Studies Librarian, Ann Marie Davis, at davis.5257@osu.edu or Eric Johnson, Lead Curator of RBML at johnson.4156@osu.edu. A descriptive finding aid is now available here: https://library.osu.edu/collections/spec.rare.0249.

Select examples of the numerous resources on this topic available at OSU Libraries and beyond are as follows:

OSU Resources on the Kantō Earthquake of 1923:

The culture of the quake: the great Kantō Earthquake and Taisho Japan by Alex Bates (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, 2015)

Imaging disaster: Tokyo and the visual culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923 by Gennifer S. Weisenfeld (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)

The great Kantō Earthquake and the chimera of national reconstruction in Japan by J Charles Schnecking (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013)

The death of old Yokohama in the great Japanese earthquake of September 1, 1923 by Otis Manchester Poole (London, Allen & Unwin, 1968)

Yokohama burning: the deadly 1923 earthquake and the fire that helped forge the path to World War II by Joshua Hammer (New York: free press, 2006)

Two minutes to noon by Noel F Busch (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962).

Kantō Daishinsai (関東大震災) by Akira Yoshimura (吉村昭) (Tōkyō: Bungei Shunjū 文藝春秋, 2004)

Yumeji to Karyō, Kō ka no kantō Daishinsai rupo (夢二と花菱・耕花の関東大震災ルポ) by Yumeji Takehisa, Karyō Kawamura, Kōka Yamamura (竹久夢二, 川村花菱, 山村耕花) (Tōkyō: Kuresu Shuppan クレス出版,  2003)

Select Sources at Ohio State on the Korean and Chinese Massacre of 1923

The Kantō Earthquake, and the government’s declaration of martial law, led to even more disasters following the initial tremors. Rumors spread of zainichi (Koreans residing in Japan) plotting to sabotage the Japanese government and resulted in the torture and massacre of thousands of Koreans. Additionally, hundreds of Chinese laborers were targeted and killed shortly after the earthquake.

The Great Kantō Earthquake and the Massacre of Koreans in 1923: Notes on Japan’s Modern National Sovereignty by Sonia Ryang (Anthropological Quarterly, 2003). 

Migrant labor and massacres: a comparison of the 1923 massacre of Koreans and Chinese during the Great Kanto Earthquake and the 1931 anti-Chinese riots and massacre of Chinese in colonial Korea by Byung Wook Jung (Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, 2017).

A Japanese national crime: The Korean massacre after the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 by Yoshiaki Ishiguro (Korea Journal, 1998)

The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Korean massacre (관동 대지진 과 조선인 학살) by Tok-Sang Kang (강 덕상) (Sŏul-si : Tongbuga Yŏksa Chaedan, 2013 동북아 역사 재단)

Digital resources on the Kantō Earthquake of 1923 beyond Ohio State

“The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923” digital repository at Brown University Library, contains a number of photos, newspaper clippings, letters, and more collected by William and Vera Reynolds. On a trip from Honolulu to Yokohama they experienced a typhoon and later witnessed the destruction of the great earthquake. 

Imaging Kantō: Mapping Japan’s 1923 Great Earthquake through Visual Culture by Dr. Gennifer Weisenfeld and managed by Nicole Y. Gaglia in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies at Duke University.  

The “Kanto Earthquake Materials” at the Duke University Libraries contains images of postcards similar to those recently acquired by OSUL that show the earthquake’s aftermath.

A web-based image and map archive managed by Dr. J. Charles Schencking of the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong.  Schencking’s site offers a unique companion to his book The Great Kantō Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan (Columbia University Press, 2013).

Schauwecker’s Guide to Japan: Great Kanto Earthquake 1923 is a special online exhibition that features photographs of Tokyo, Yokohama, and the surrounding areas that were completely destroyed by the earthquake and resulting fires. The photographs were taken by a Swiss resident, August Kengelbacher, who lived and worked in Japan from 1919 to 1946.