Resource: The Great Kantō Earthquake Archive


This week’s resource is a digital archive, the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’s collection on the Great Kantō Earthquake 関東大震災写真集 of 1923. One of the most destructive natural disasters in Japan’s recorded history, the Kantō earthquake caused devastating damage throughout the region, with casualties estimated at over 140,000 people. The massive destruction in Tokyo, Yokohama, and other nearby areas and the subsequent reconstruction process had a keen influence on Japan’s future social, political, and physical architecture, making this archive an excellent interdisciplinary resource on modern Japanese history.

The site contains 199 images, scanned from black & white still photos matted on a black background. It is divided into simple-to-use browsing and search options. Under the browsing tab, you can access the images by title, reference number, category (such as ‘debris,’ ‘hospital,’ temple,’ or other keywords), city, or recent comments. Alternatively, it is possible to use a simple “search” function from a separate tab.

From the Great Kanto Earthquake Japan of 1923, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection.

From the Great Kanto Earthquake Japan of 1923, courtesy of the UHM Library Asia Collection.

Each individual image features the reference number, date (if known), dimensions, location, and any additional notes or comments on the image. One of the great things about the presentation of the photographs is that it is possible to view extremely large and high-quality close-ups, which is helpful, given that Hawai’i has preserved the photos without alterations for clarity.

Use of images on the site requires no formal permission if it’s for non-commercial educational purposes (such as class lectures or presentations — just credit the site!), so it is easy to engage the archive as an educational tool at any level. If you’re interested in any aspect of modern Japanese history, environmental history, the history of Tokyo, Yokohama, etc., or even photography, be sure to check out this wonderful resource!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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