Comparing Narratives

The trauma that the earthquake and fires caused were hard to forget. As survivors re-integrated themselves into society days, weeks, and years after the disaster, differing narratives of the event arose. Japan’s nationalistic tendencies to hide their wrongdoings are exposed when “personal accounts” edited by the government are compared to raw, unfiltered interviews about the disaster.

Taisho Shinsai Giseki

The Taisho Shinsai Giseki is a collection of 100 heartwarming personal stories from the earthquake. The Tokyo municipal government made these available to the public on the one year anniversary of the disaster. All narratives in this collection depict a positive image of the Japanese government and people -highlighting themes such as heroic rescues and selflessness. The collection is riddled with titles such as “With Wit, He Saves 300 Lives”, “Sacrificing One’s Own Life to Save Thirty Others”, and “An Individual’s Strength” (Denawa 2005). While moving, it is important to note that the stories were carefully chosen and edited by the government. In regards to the Korean Massacre mentioned in the previous page of this website, these government published narratives hide the racist wrongdoings.

“The Mayor Who Sheltered the Koreans” is one example of a narrative that covers up the unjust acts of the Korean Massacre. As one can tell from the title, the government emphasized themes of governmental heroism in an effort to “rewrite the history of the event” (Denawa 2005). In this story, a Tokyo mayor, Soda Tetsuo worked with the Chief of Police to create a refuge where 1,000 Korean citizens could hide from the dangerous Jikeidan. He brought them firewood, rice, noodles, towels, and medical supplies. Even though he knew the dangers of arguing with Jikeidan, the mayor simply reasoned with the vigilance groups that Koreans are “not all bad people” and they were all part of “an intimate community: these Koreans always bought rice from the Jikeidan, or shared bath houses with them” (Denawa 2005). As townspeople observed the mayor’s dedication to protect innocent Koreans, they too began to act sympathetically.

This story suggests that the murders were a result of only a few radical Japanese citizens, while the majority of the population acted with the same heroism as Mayor Soda. Rather than admit that police officers idly watched and perhaps participated in the murders, this narrative portrays the government and citizens as morally just.

The 1990 Interviews by Osamu Hiroi

In 1990, a renowned researcher of Japanese earthquakes Osamu Hiroi conducted and published 20 interviews from ordinary people about their experiences during and after the disaster. These narratives were raw and unfiltered. Therefore, while there are some stories of courage and self-sacrifice, there are also narratives that criticize the government and citizens of Japan. Unlike the Taisho Shinsai Giseki, these interviews unapologetically reveal the “morally-unjust acts committed during the Korean Massacre” (Denawa 2005).

“My Friend in the Hihukusho” is one example of a narrative that reveals the truth behind the Korean Massacre. In this interview, Massao, who was 14 in 1923 recounts how the racism he observed after the disaster was a “far more terrifying experience than the earthquake itself”. After losing his family and belongings, an army medic told a badly burned Massao to rest at his nearby uncle’s home. However, even in the safety of his uncle’s house, Massao could not sleep because of the sounds of the Jikeidan killing Koreans outside his window. Despite being Japanese, he was even harassed by vigilance groups because the bandages on his face aroused suspicion. The Jikeidan stopped Massao on the streets and demanded him to read Japanese text on the spot. Massao’s uncle eventually had to fight the neighborhood watch group to keep them away from his nephew (Denawa 2005).

This story, along with the nineteen other casually conducted interviews reveal the real stories behind the Great Kantō earthquake that are left out of textbook readings and government published accounts of this disaster. Japan’s reluctance to admit their ugly history is a direct reflection of their excessive nationalism and desire to have a “perfect” image.