The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan

The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Chimera of National Reconstruction in Japan

by J. Charles Schencking

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In September 1923, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake devastated eastern Japan, 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 the graphic tale of Tokyo's destruction and rebirth. In emotive prose, he documents how the citizens of Tokyo experienced this unprecedented calamity and explores the ways in which it rattled people's deep-seated anxieties about modernity. While explaining how and why the disaster compelled people to reflect on Japanese society, he also examines how reconstruction encouraged the capital's inhabitants to entertain new types of urbanism as they rebuilt their world.

Some residents hoped that a grandiose metropolis, reflecting new values, would rise from the ashes of disaster-ravaged Tokyo. Many, however, desired a quick return of the city they once called home. Opportunistic elites advocated innovative state infrastructure to better manage the daily lives of Tokyo residents. Others focused on rejuvenating society—morally, economically, and spiritually—to combat the perceived degeneration of Japan. Schencking explores the inspiration behind these dreams and the extent to which they were realized. He investigates why Japanese citizens from all walks of life responded to overtures for renewal with varying degrees of acceptance, ambivalence, and resistance. His research not only sheds light on Japan's experience with and interpretation of the earthquake but challenges widespread assumptions that disasters unite stricken societies, creating a "blank slate" for radical transformation. National reconstruction in the wake of the Great Kanto Earthquake, Schencking demonstrates, proved to be illusive.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231535069
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 07/02/2013
Series: Contemporary Asia in the World
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
File size: 24 MB
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About the Author

J. Charles Schencking is professor and chairperson of the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Preface and Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

1 Cataclysm: The Earthquake Disaster as a Lived and Reported Experience 13

2 Aftermath: The Ordeal of Restoration and Recovery 47

3 Communication: Constructing the Earthquake as a National Tragedy 78

4 Admonishment: Interpreting Catastrophe as Divine Punishment 116

5 Optimism: Dreams for a New Metropolis AMID a Landscape of Ruin 153

6 Contestation: The Fractious Politics of Reconstruction Planning 187

7 Regeneration: Forging a New Japan Through Spiritual Renewal and Fiscal Retrenchment 226

8 Readjustment: Rebuilding Tokyo from the Ashes 263

9 Conclusion 301

Notes 317

Bibliography 347

Index 363

What People are Saying About This

Sheldon Garon

This fascinating, original book is the first work in English to offer a comprehensive account of the Kanto earthquake. The book could not be timelier. J. Charles Schencking crafts an enticing lead-in, illuminating the uncanny resemblances in how Japanese talked about both the Kanto earthquake and the 2011 earthquake/tsunami as opportunities to revitalize the nation.

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