Monday, 10 September 2012

89 years on - the Great Kanto Earthquake

Hiro's parents were down last week for the week to attend oldest aunt's funeral. Although it breeches norms in some parts of the extended family, they also did their best to do sightseeing in Tokyo and enjoy themselves, as far as possible.

Hiro's father has a thing for the Edo Tokyo Museum. I used to be impressed by the museum, but was less so this time, the history was less cohesive, less comprehensive, more piecemeal. There used to be a wonderful display of Edo newspapers that has been removed to make way for odds and sods that the museum has acquired. The English also seemed lesss than before. Much of the section on the Yoshiwara, which was new, did not have English. I wonder whether there is someone new at the top...

Anyway we wandered out of the Edo Tokyo Museum and I thought it might be interesting to take a detour via the Kanto Earthquake (1923) Memorial Hall in Yokoamicho Park. By sheer fluke it was the 89th anniversary of the earthquake - 1st September 1923. The earthquake, which struck just before midday, must have felt apocalyptic, even in a country accustomed to earthquakes. The earthquake struck at a time when people were cooking and the fires that followed the earthquake were devastating. More than 140,000 people were killed in the earthquake and fires that followed.  Many of those who died, died in the place where the memorial hall is located.  Residents crowded into the defuct Honjo Army Depot hoping to escape the flames and instead were engulfed...

There is no mention inside the hall of the massacre of Koreans that followed the earthquake - spurred on by false rumours that Koreans were poisoning the wells.  The Tokyo metropolitan govt site says there is a memorial to Koreans. I didn't see it - it's certainly not prominent.  Next time I am back there I'll see if I can find it.

The memorial temple built by Ito Chuto, who also built Tsukiji Honganji.

A memorial to child victims of the earthquake
In the shadow of Skytree (and the ipad case)
Inside the temple were memorial wreaths - we were there just prior to a chanting session.
Unusual to have seats in a temple positioned like a church.
Wreaths on the other side with pictures around the wall memorializing the quake.
Graphic scenes of the flames engulfing people
In memory
A floral display, underneath is a repository, see below.
This part has me quite conflicted. The memorial hall has a section where all the names of
those who were killed in the Tokyo air-raids are kept.  The eastern part of Tokyo
was disproportionately affected by both events.  For the person on the street
whether the fires and deaths came from aeroplanes or an earthquake may not make that
much difference, it seems like naive, lazy, or mischievous history depending on your
degree of cynicism.  I don't condone the bombing of civilians at all, but
by placing them together, the imperative for analysis of reasons evaporates.

Inside the museum - a seisomgraph that is well...
almost off the Reichter...

A badly taken photo, but you can get some idea of Ginza after the quake and today.
1 Sept is Disaster Prevention day, to commeorate the earthquake.
Local people were handing out onigiri  - to get people used to the idea of what
emergency supplies might be like.  But Tohoku is any guide, it might be a fair bit more than
the anticipated 3 days before food becomes available.
Emergency food corner
Hiro's parents lined up for onigiri - Hiro & I were aghast - though to be fair,
I guess they were just old enough to remember
the war and post war deprivation.  Unsurprisingly they were not very tasty...
A Japanese garden. One of the lessons of the Kanto earthquake was the need
for public space as evacuation areas.
The back, though it looks more like the front.


Rurousha said...

They took the newspapers away at the Edo Tokyo Museum? Ag nee man! That's enough to make me want to boycott the place.

I've never actually been inside the Earthquake Memorial Hall, but that seismograph shook (pun not intended) me. Ye gods.

I wonder if a memorial hall will be built for Tohoku?

PS: Ever been to the Fukagawa Edo Museum in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa? Very nice. I like it much more than the bigger Edo Tokyo Museum.

Cecilia said...

The newspapers were such a good's a real pity.

The memorial hall was free - I don't remember if it is always free or whether it was just for 1/9. It's worth going into just for the before and after pics. Most places have a photo from the earthquake, the 30s and contemporary. Rebuilding was a formidable effort.

I expect that each town along the Sanriku will make their own memorial to the earthquake. I know in Rikuzen Takada they are planting a row of Sakura at the high water mark of the tsunami, which is intended to be a reminder of the event, but also a caution for future generations.

I have been to the little Fukagawa museum twice or three times I think, but not for many many years. I took my parents there when they visited in 2002. At the time there was a hands on traditional toy display happening which is one of my mother's vivid Japan memories.

I'd be interested to go back as much to see the surrounding area, which I remember as being quite charming, as to see the museum.

SomedaysSarah said...

I remember falling in love with Edo-haku the first time I went, over a decade ago (with little Japanese ability and a basic understanding of the Edo period). I am less and less impressed by the regular exhibit space every time I've been since. From what I understand, unlike Tohaku they don't have in-house native translation staff and haven't made an effort to add new English when they've added new exhibit portions. I'm also not terribly impressed with the piecemeal attempts they've made to "upgrade" or freshen up the regular exhibit space. In general a perfect example of how quickly a good museum can go sour if care isn't taken!

Have you ever been to the National History Museum (Rekihaku) out in Chiba? It is a trek to get to but makes a valiant attempt to cover the entirely of Japanese history... Of course there are issues that are glossed over (much of WWII), but it does attempt to discuss some issues (Buraku) that are normally totally ignored in large museums.

Mmmm... I'd better leave my comment at that, I could talk about museums for far too long! ;)