I’ve been thinking about Japan since the March 11 earthquake, as of course we all are. I’ve got two friends there, and two Japanese students who have family and friends back home, but everyone is in the South and safe and sound, or relatively so. I always like to get some historical perspective on big events, whether good or bad, and the twentieth century appears particularly dynamic and destructive for Japan: since 1891, there have been 8 earthquakes measuring more than 8.0 on the Richter scale and there have been hundreds of earthquakes measuring over 6.0 in the modern era. Earthquakes must be woven into the very psyche of Japanese culture.
The most destructive earthquake in terms of mortality was the great Kanto earthquake of 1923 which killed between 100,000 and 150,000 people and devastated Tokoyo and its surrounding region. There are several photograph archives of this disaster (Library of Congress, Brown University Library), but I prefer to showcase the works of contemporary woodblock print artists. The works below are from the online auction site artelino.
The traditional woodblock printers of Japan worked feverishly to document the Great Kanto earthquake, but perhaps even more intensely to capture its longer-term impact, including the rapid rebuilding of the capital city. It’s this resiliancy that is so impressive about Japan and the Japanese people. The next great earthquake after Kanto occured ten years later (just after the reconstruction was completed) and was accompanied by a terrible tsunami that swept away thousands of homes. Just months after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan experienced the Nankaido (8.1) earthquake. In 1995 the Great Hanshin earthquake destroyed the port of Kobe and killed over 6000 people. And then Sendei, last week and ongoing.