The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan
J. Charles Schenking
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In September 1923, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake and subsequent firestorms devastated nearly half of Japan’s capital, 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 in English or Japanese the graphic tale of Tokyo’s destruction, while explaining how and why the disaster compelled people to reflect on the state of urban, consumer society. He also examines how the unprecedented calamity encouraged many inhabitants to entertain new types of modernity as they rebuilt their world.
Some residents hoped this catastrophe would lead to a grandiose, awe-inspiring new city; some pushed for more creative infrastructure to enable the state to better manage traffic. Others focused on rejuvenating societymorally, economically, and spirituallyto combat the perceived deterioration of Japan. Schencking explores the inspiration behind these dreams and the extent to which they were realized. He investigates why Japanese citizens of all walks of life responded to elite overtures for renewal with ambivalence, reticence, and, ultimately, resistance. Moreover, he examines how and why the earthquake rattled their deep-seated fears about modernity. His research not only sheds rare light on Japan’s experience with and interpretation of the earthquake, it challenges widespread assumptions that disasters unite stricken societies, creating a blank slate” for radical transformation. National reconstruction, Schencking demonstrates, proved to be illusive.