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1923 Kanto Earthquake: Echoes From Japan's Past

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With the massive quake and tsunami that struck Japan last week, the specter of another devastating event has returned: The 1923 Kanto earthquake, which shook the region around Tokyo, was the country's last "big one." The 7.9-magnitude quake reduced much of Tokyo to rubble, and as refugees tried to leave, firestorms swept through the city. More than 100,000 people died during the Kanto quake and its aftermath. These archival images, drawn from the U.S. Geological Survey, AP, and Brown University's Dana and Vera Reynolds Collection, show the horrifying wreckage. They're a reminder that Japan has faced brutally difficult rebuilding efforts before, and succeeded in building back better. [ See also, from the January 1924 edition of the Atlantic Magazine: Earthquake Days. ] (Alexis Madrigal and Alan Taylor) [24 photos]

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A view of destruction in Tokyo, seen from the top of the Imperial Hotel, which was the only hotel in the region that survived the 1923 earthquake. "A good idea of the tremendous devastation in Tokyo wrought by earthquake and fire." J.H. Messervey, from a letter dated March 5, 1924. Image of Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, after the September 1, 1923 earthquake. (USGS/George A. Lang Collection)
A view of destruction in Tokyo, seen from the top of the Imperial Hotel, which was the only hotel in the region that survived the 1923 earthquake. "A good idea of the tremendous devastation in Tokyo wrought by earthquake and fire." J.H. Messervey, from a letter dated March 5, 1924. Image of Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, after the September 1, 1923 earthquake. (USGS/George A. Lang Collection)
The remains of the famous Maruzen bookstore located in Nihombashi district of Tokyo after fire. The Maruzen bookstores was the largest bookstore and main provider of Western and European literature in Tokyo. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
People gathering in front of a sign posted on a bridge by a river. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
The disastrous scene in Nihombashi-ku, the center of the Imperial Capital. Men stand among debris and bodies, building frames in background. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
Collapsed Remains of the Azuma Bridge on the Sumida River. The wooden floor of the bridge burned down during the fires caused by the earthquake, leaving only the metal supports. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
"A good idea of the tremendous devastation in Tokyo wrought by earthquake and fire. Enclosed find a few snaps taken on the top of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo which is the only hotel in the earthquake district that survived." J.H. Messervey, letter dated March 5, 1924. Image of Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, Earthquake from September 1, 1923. (USGS/George A. Lang Collection) #
A view of the devastation in Tokyo after the 1923 earthquake and fire, seen from the top of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. (USGS/George A. Lang Collection) #
A view of the devastation in Tokyo after the 1923 earthquake and fire, seen from the top of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. (USGS/George A. Lang Collection) #
A man stands atop a fissured road. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
A refugee site. Perhaps a former refugee site devastated by fire, with burnt cars, tires, canisters, and pieces of debris. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
People take refuge on a Nihonbashi street in Japan in 1923. Buildings across the streets are burning and billowing smoke and flame from an earthquake that hit . (AP Photo) #
People taking refuge to Japan's countryside climb and clinch to one of few trains leaving the capital in 1923. (AP Photo) #
Congestion of refugees fleeing their homes in the Ueno vicinity in Tokyo. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
Piles of bodies and debris from a large refugee site. Remains of tires and wagons. The refugee site was most likely overcrowded and overcome by fire. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
A fallen bridge. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
In the vicinity of the badly damaged Manseibashi Train Station in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan. The statue of Takeo Hirose. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
People walk in the devastated area of Yuoguku in Tokyo, Japan, after the earthquake that struck on Sept. 1, 1923. In the background is the gutted domed building Kokugikan, National Sumo Wrestling arena, in the Ryoguku district. (AP Photo) #
Fissures in the road in the Yokohama Oebashi vicinity. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
A man tries to earn some money by offering haircuts in the remains of a building. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
The Akasaka district, one of Tokyo's residential areas, lies in ruins after the 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Sept. 1, 1923. (AP Photo) #
Fissure in unknown road. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
Destruction of the city. (Brown University Library/William Dana Reynolds) #
Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, Earthquake September 1, 1923. "I enclose also a photo of the ruins of the Grand Hotel at Yokohama where I stopped last year." J.H. Messervey, letter dated March 5, 1924. (USGS/George A. Lang Collection)#
Many People sit on street car railway in front of their crushed houses in Japan 1923 after an earthquake. Fortunately, this area did not suffer from fire. (AP Photo) #

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