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The Great Kanto Earthquake and Japanese Prints

Item # 40492 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Around Ueno - Sold for $120 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Ueno Fukin." (Around Ueno). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the fire and chaos around Ueno. People are trying to escape along the broad streets.
By Unpo Takashima fl.ca. 1920s

This page presents woodblock prints made by 9 different Japanese artists that illustrate the gruesome events that followed the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1, 1923. The woodblock print series was published three years after the earthquake by Emaki Kenkyukai.

The Great Kanto Earthquake

On September 1 of 1923 a massive earthquake shook the Kanto area in Japan with the densely populated cities of Yokohama and Tokyo. Approximately 140,000 people lost their lives - most by the fires that started to rage immediately after the earthquake. The fires spread within minutes. The construction of Japanese cities and houses and strong winds on that day enforced the spreading of the fires and augmented the death toll and the damages by far beyond the direct impact of the earthquake.

The Woodblock Print Series

Many Japanese printmakers made woodblock prints afterwards to remember and document the terrible events. Historically Japanese woodblock prints in the nineteenth century were a media to report and illustrate news and events of major interest for the public like the Satsuma rebellion of 1877 lead by Saigo Takamori ("The last Samurai") or the Sino-Japanese War.

In the twentieth century woodblock prints as a news media were replaced by photography and newspaper offset printing. But either artists and publishers felt an emotional need to express themselves or there was a demand by the public. Japanese prints depicting the events of the Great Kanto Earthquake are a part of the history of Japanese woodblocks, although they are not often found in the market.

In April of 2009 we received a consignment of 23 rare woodblock prints. They were published by Emaki Kenkyukai in 1926, three years after the events. The series is titled "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake)." The complete series has 25 designs.

The prints were made by 9 different artists of whom the names are known but hardly any further biographical data. We have no other information about the series.

"Konoyo no Gofuku-bashi Kinbo." (Around Gofukubashi Bridge on this Night).

Item # 40491 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Around Gofuku-bashi Bridge - Sold for $60 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Konoyo no Gofuku-bashi Kinbo." (Around Gofukubashi Bridge on this Night). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the chaos around Gofuku-bashi Bridge. Many people were trampled to death. Some horses which were used to carry loads became wild.
By Hakuhan Yawata fl.ca. 1920s

This design depicts the chaos around Gofuku-bashi bridge. Many people were trampled to death. Some horses which were used to carry loads became wild.

The artist was Hakuhan Yawata.

"Nakabashi Hirokoji no Sanjo" (The Devastation of Nakabashi Hirokoji)

Item # 40504 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Nakabashi HIrokoji District - Sold for $90 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Nakabashi Hirokoji no Sanjo" (The Devastation of Nakabashi Hirokoji). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the people who were buried under the bricks around Hirokoji district.
By Kougai Noguchi fl.ca. 1920s

The image shows a rescue operation to free a man buried under bricks from the Hirokoji district .

The artist was Kougai Noguch.

"11-ji 58-pun" (11 O'clock 58 Minutes).

Item # 40503 - Great Kanto Earthquake - 11 O'clock 58 Minutes - Sold for $150 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "11-ji 58-pun" (11 O'clock 58 Minutes). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the time the earthquake hit.
By Kouyo Shibata fl.ca. 1920s

The trembling of the earth started at 12:58 AM on September 1, 1923. That was the time when many people prepared their lunch on open fires. This was a major reason for the immediate outbreak of fires that took two days to get under control.

The artist was Kouyo Shibata.

"Hi ni Oware Mizu ni Oboru" (Chased by the Fire, Drowned in the Water)

Item # 40511 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Burnt or Drowned - Sold for $160 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Hi ni Oware Mizu ni Oboru" (Chased by the Fire, Drowned in the Water). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. People ran from the fire and jumped into the water. But the fire particles showered on the surface of the water and the water became boiling hot.
By Nyosen Hamada born 1875 - ?

People ran away from the fires and jumped into the water. But the fire particles showered on the surface of the water and the water became boiling hot.

The artist was Nyosen Hamada (1875-?).

"Shinsaigo Yakeidan" (Night Patrol Group after the Earthquake).

Item # 40499 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Night Patrol - Sold for $90 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Shinsaigo Yakeidan" (Night Patrol Group after the Earthquake). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted private citizens who patroled the neighbors for the security. The area around Negishi, Taito Ward, could escape from the devastating fire.
By Sengai Igawa 1876-1961

This design shows a vigilante group that patrols the neighborhood at night. Immediately after the earthquake there was complete chaos and disinformation all around Japan. Rumors were spreading that Koreans took advantage of the disaster by arson, robbery and by poisoning the wells. This lead to massacres by vigilante groups against Koreans, Chinese and Okinawans. The official number released later by the Japanese government was around 300 killed, but the actual number is estimated much higher.

The artist was Sengai Igawa, 1876-1961.

"Ginza Doori no Yakeato" (Burnt Ruins of Ginza Street)

Item # 40495 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Ruins of Ginza - Sold for $90 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Ginza Doori no Yakeato" (Burnt Ruins of Ginza Street). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the Ginza street along which plush brick buildings and gas street lights had been seen before the earth quake.
By Senrin Kirigaya fl.ca. 1920s

The woodblock print shows what once was the plush Ginza street, an elegant shopping area with brick buildings and gas street lanterns.

The artist was by Senrin Kirigaya.

"Suji Kotsubo Shingo Tsunami no Shurai" (The Tsunami Attacks at Suji Kotsubo after the Earthquake)

Item # 40505 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Tsunami at Suji - Sold for $110 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Suji Kotsubo Shingo Tsunami no Shurai" (The Tsunami Attacks at Suji Kotsubo after the Earthquake). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the tsunami wave pushed up the fishing boats more than 100 meters inland.
By Shiun Kondo active in 1910-30s

Only minutes after the first earthquake shocks tsunami waves of up to ten meters hit the coasts of Japan killing several hundred people and making thousands homeless. This design shows the tsunami wave throwing fishing boats more than 100 meters inland.

The artist was Shiun Kondo.

"Fukou Saisho no Suda-cho" (The First Recovery of Suda City)

Item # 40502 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Suda Town - Sold for $60 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Fukou Saisho no Suda-cho" (The First Recovery of Suda City). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the recovery face of Suda in Chiyoda Ward. Construction materials are transported by horse carts and the refugees started to come back their houses.
By Shunpan Katayama fl.ca. 1920s

The progress of recovery after the earthquake was slow in the beginning. This design shows the recovery activities at Suda in Chiyoda Ward. Construction materials are transported by horse carts, and refugees are coming back to the remains of their homes.

The artist was Shunpan Katayam.

"Ueno Fukin." (Around Ueno).

Item # 40492 - Great Kanto Earthquake - Around Ueno - Sold for $120 - 4/26/2009
From the series, "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake). "Ueno Fukin." (Around Ueno). "Great Kanto Earthquake" September 1st in 1923, the massive earthquake jolted Kanto area. The collapsing building and the inferno followed the earthquake killed 140,000 people. It devastated Tokyo and the surrounding area. This one depicted the fire and chaos around Ueno. People are trying to escape along the broad streets.
By Unpo Takashima fl.ca. 1920s

The image shows the firestorms around Ueno. People are trying to escape along the broad streets. Many had sought for refuge in open spaces inside Tokyo and found themselves trapped. On the place where an estimated 38,000 people were caught by the fires and killed, the Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum was erected in commemoration of the victims.

The artist was Unpo Takashima.

Dieter WanczuraAuthor: Dieter Wanczura

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