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The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Culture of Catastrophe and Reconstruction in 1920s Japan


This article explores the Great Kanto Earthquake as a window into Japan of the 1920s and examines how this disaster was interpreted and used for political, ideological, and social ends. I suggest that a wide cross-section of commentators described the disaster as an act of divine punishment to admonish Japan’s subjects for leading what many claimed were self-centered, immoral, and extravagant lifestyles. I further argue that the disaster nurtured a strong sense that Japan possessed an unparalleled opportunity not only to rebuild Tokyo to reflect and reinforce new values but also to reconstruct the nation and its people. In doing so, the 1923 calamity fostered a culture of catastrophe and reconstruction that amplified discourses of moral degeneracy and national renovation in interwar Japan.