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«Jeffrey E. Hanes The massive earthquake that devastated Kobe in was a shocking occurrence. Some people died in the catastrophe, and the survivors ...»

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Urban Planning as an Urban Problem:

The Reconstruction of Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake

Jeffrey E. Hanes

The massive earthquake that devastated Kobe in was a shocking occurrence. Some

people died in the catastrophe, and the survivors were left to ponder its causes and consequences.

Most accounts of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake have characterized it as a natural

disaster -a sudden, shocking eruption of natural forces beyond human control. However convenient and common this explanation may be, however, it is also extremely misleading. For, while the earthquake event itself was natural, much of the disaster that followed was human-made.

As Miyamoto Ken ichi and many others have observed, The quake was a natural disaster. But fires spread and rescue work was delayed owing to failures in both national and regional fireprevention preparations as well as a lack of safety precautions by companies. This ultimately produced a human-made disaster (Miyamoto, ).

It was not merely the lack of emergency preparedness that turned the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake into a catastrophe, however. Drawing our attention to the many infrastructural and structural failures that Kobe suffered, Miyamoto and others have carried their diagnosis of this human-made disaster one critical step further (Miyamoto, ). For his part, Miyamoto has reminded us that Japan s postwar commitment to rapid urban industrial growth was frequently made at the expense of human safety. Noting that the metropolitan conurbations of Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka have been developed as vessels of industrial capitalism and are now surrounded by volatile petrochemical plants, he has exhorted the Japanese leadership to rethink the nation s developmental priorities. Echoing Miyamoto s assessment of the Kobe disaster as a tragedy that seems to foreshadow the demise of Japan as a great economic superpower (Miyamoto, ), Gavan McCormack has wondered aloud whether Japan will actually set a new developmental course before it is too late. It remains to be seen, writes McCormack, whether the Kobe shocks will serve to shift Japan from the treadmill track of growth, consumption, and waste onto the very different track of sustainable development (McCormack, ).

While there is much evidence to suggest that government, business, and the public all have taken the challenge of sustainable development seriously, the real question is whether they have Mar taken it seriously enough. As of, Miyamoto insisted that they had not. Priority has been given to restoration of railway lines, highways, and port facilities, he observed. But housing and welfare services have received little attention (Miyamoto, ). Since, of course, central, prefectural, and local authorities have confronted these pressing social concerns. Indeed, they have approached reconstruction planning (fukkô keikaku) as a consultative process focused on the local community, thus placing Japan on the path toward a new democratic paradigm of urban planning. Despite their seeming enthusiasm for community reconstruction in Kobe, however, the authorities have failed to achieve many of their objectives in the critical areas of housing reconstruction (jûtaku fukkô) and social welfare (shakai fukushi). As of, the Governor of Hyogo Prefecture was compelled to admit that social reconstruction continued to lag far behind infrastructural reconstruction (Ritsumeikan Daigaku Shinsai Fukkô Kenkyû Purojiekuto, ). In its report on earthquake reconstruction in Kobe, the Ritsumeikan University Earthquake Disaster Research Project confirmed the Hyogo Prefectural Governor s disturbing findings: Today, three years after the earthquake disaster, by means of the nation s technological and financial power, the hard elements of reconstruction such as infrastructure have been largely achieved. But where urban life is concerned, as represented especially by housing, numerous disaster victims remain mired in troubling circumstances (Ritsumeikan Daigaku Shinsai Fukko Kenkyu Purojiekuto, ).

Given the palpable enthusiasm of central, prefectural, and local authorities for community reconstruction, it might seem surprising that they made so little progress between and.

In the following essay, however, I will argue that this eventuality was quite predictable. In brief, I will contend that the planners who engineered Kobe s reconstruction were little different ideologically from those who engineered Tokyo s reconstruction following the Great Kanto Earthquake in. Not only did these two distant generations of planners proceed from shared assumptions about the nature of modernization and progress, in fact, their respective critics shared similar reservations about the application of these assumptions to the enterprise of reconstruction.

The planners of treated reconstruction as a means of restoring Japan s prewar great power status, while those of treated it as a means of enhancing its postwar superpower status; the critics of Tokyo s road-centered reconstruction called for the creation of livable cities (sumigokochi yoki toshi), while those of Kobe s infrastructure-centered reconstruction anticipated the advent of a sustainable society (susteinaburu sosaietei). Although the rhetoric changed between and, then, the basic issue did not. In both cases, planners paid lip service to community reconstruction, but respectively treated Tokyo and Kobe as economic objects; and in both cases, the critics of these planners attempted unsuccessfully to press the community reconstruction agenda by redefining cities as social subjects.





What makes it possible for us to make such an explicit comparison between these distant Urban Planning as an Urban Problem: The Reconstruction of Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake Jeffrey E. Hanes reconstruction projects is the explicit nature of the historical record. In Tokyo, as in Kobe, in the wake of catastrophe, the authorities and their critics easily and often dramatically betrayed their most deeply-held ideological presuppositions. If we can take the disaster researcher Anthony Oliver-Smith at his word, then it is not the least surprising that people wore their values on their sleeves. As Smith has poignantly observed, Disasters, as few other research subjects, throw theoretical and practical issues into high relief; the first, by their tendency to lay bare the essential features and processes of social and cultural organization and, second, by the urgency of the needs of those threatened or stricken by disasters for effective prevention, protection, relief or reconstruction (Oliver-Smith, ).

The Great Kanto Earthquake was a catastrophe of almost unimaginable proportions. Disaster struck at : AM on September,. Shaken by a massive earthquake measuring. on the Japanese scale-a jolt strong enough to stop the clock on the Central Meteorological Observatorythe great cities of Tokyo and Yokohama were brought to their knees. While the earthquake wrought considerable damage, however, the fires that followed produced a holocaust. Many of these fires were ignited by overturned braziers lit minutes earlier for noontime tea. They spread rapidly through the densely-constructed, wooden neighborhoods of Tokyo and Yokohama, compelling hundreds of thousands of urban residents to seek refuge where they could. Setting nearly half the city of Tokyo ablaze, these raging fires ravaged the city for three full days.

When the smoke cleared and government officials assessed the damage, they were awestruck.

In Tokyo alone, nearly hectares were laid to waste, and some, dwellings were destroyed. The homeless numbered,, -roughly percent of the city s population-and an estimated, people had lost their lives. More than half of the dead, perhaps as many as,, had been trapped in an open compound near Ryôgoku. Asphyxiated and incinerated by a rogue firestorm, the unidentifiable victims were later cremated en masse.

In the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake, as fires raged across the city, Tokyo was nothing short of a living hell. Mass hysteria ruled, and some panicked residents were ultimately driven to mass murder. Amidst the chaos of the conflagration, rumors flew wildly and conspiracy theories ran rampant. One such rumor, which spread to a populace half-crazed by aftershocks and firestorms-of a Korean conspiracy to set fires and poison wells-turned neighborhood watch groups into mobs of vigilantes bent on the crudest form of street justice. Untold thousands of Koreans, Chinese, and other innocent victims were brutally murdered, their battered corpses heaped indiscriminately atop the piles of crushed, incinerated, asphyxiated, and drowned bodies that littered the city (Nakajima ).

In an effort to capture the magnitude of the catastrophe, the Tokyo Municipal Office later produced a dramatic graphic that compared the conflagration in Tokyo to the world s most infamous urban fires (See Figure ). Significantly, however, what the authorities chose to highlight Mar was not the tragic loss of life but the massive loss of wealth (Tokyo Municipal Office, ) that Tokyo experienced. Here, as they silently compared notes with their counterparts in Europe and America, the authorities tacitly identified Tokyo as an economic entity by identifying the earthquake as an economic disaster. Equally significantly, the authorities doctored the human disaster narrative. Suppressing photographs of the holocaust at Ryogoku and censoring accounts of the city-wide lynching of Koreans, among other things, they systematically sanitized the human suffering that defined this social catastrophe (Kaizôsha, - ).

From the outset, state authorities did their best to put a political spin on the earthquake calculated to absolve them of any blame for the disaster and thus to give them free rein in setting the agenda for reconstruction. The official account of the Great Kanto Earthqnuake poigantly characterized the event as a case of force majeure...beyond the control of human agency -a

–  –  –

terrible outburst of the forces which may at any time overwhelm a nation. The state went on to declare the Great Kanto Earthquake the most horrible [disaster] ever know since authentic history began, ultimately pronouncing it a great holocaust that had arrested the progress of national development. Having thus identified the Great Kanto Earthquake as an unavoidable natural disaster-and one that had struck at the heart of the modern nation-the authorities initially concluded that the utmost that could be hoped for in the circumstances was to restrict the scope of the misery and to devise a conscientious programme of relief (Bureau of Social Affairs, iii).

Notwithstanding their fatalistic public assessment of the earthquake and its aftermath, and their expansive expression of compassion for disaster victims, the Japanese leadership ultimately exhibited far less concern with human relief than with material reconstruction. They ignored the outcry of agrarianists and moralists, who cast the catastrophe as a heavenly punishment for sybaritic urbanites, summarily rejecting their call for capital relocation (Watanabe ). And they evinced only superficial interest in more temperate popular proposals to invest in land readjustment (kukaku seiri) schemes designed to promote residential livability. Instead proposing a three billion yen program for capital reconstruction that anticipated the re-creation of Tokyo as a modern metropolis, the newly-appointed Home Minister Gotô Shimpei seized the moment.

Gotô s proposal prevailed for a number of reasons, including his ample political influence, but most importantly because it resonated with the nation s continuing commitment to rapid economic development. When the Great Kanto Earthquake laid waste to Tokyo in, it threw the enterprise of national progress into high relief. After all, the disaster came on the heels of the First World War, when Japan had stepped up industrial production, stepped into international markets, and stepped through to such booming economic success that it was transformed into a global power. Because Tokyo was central to that success-as the eastern metropolitan anchor of an emerging industrial conurbation that extended to Osaka along the Tokaido Belt-the Great Kanto Earthquake loomed particularly large in the minds of the Japanese leadership. Fully two-thirds of Japan s industrial production was concentrated in cities along this conurbation (Hanes, ), and this simple fact impelled officials such as Gotô to re-conceive the imperial capital as a modern industrial metropolis. As Gotô saw it, the Great Kanto Earthquake had not merely struck down the imperial capital but struck at the socio-economic epicenter of the modern nation-state.

Accordingly, he identified Tokyo s reconstruction with the hopes and dreams of Japan itself.

By September,, the imperial government had made its position on reconstruction crystal clear. As the Imperial Edict on Reconstruction proclaimed, Tokyo, the capital of the empire, has been looked upon by the people as the centre of political and economic activities and the fountainhead of the cultural advancement of the nation. With the unforeseen visit of the Mar catastrophe, the city has entirely lost its former prosperous contours but retains, nevertheless, its position as the national capital. The remedial work, therefore, ought not to consist merely in the reparation of the quondam metropolis, but, in ample provisions for the future development of the city, completely to transform the avenues and streets (Bureau of Social Affairs, frontispiece). In short, the imperial government did not hope to transform Tokyo into a glittering capital, nor a livable city, but a fluid metropolis.

This imperial entreaty to build a national capital worthy of the distinction, not simply to repair the quondam metropolis, loudly echoed Gotô s original proposal. This proposal, in turn, virtually reiterated the advice of Charles A. Beard, former director of the New York Bureau of Municipal Research and an internationally-renowned champion of scientific urban management. As the story goes, Gotô had sent Beard an urgent cable on September -some say, the first official news of the earthquake outside of Japan-that read as follows: Earthquake and fire destroyed the greater part of Tokyo [Stop]. Thoroughgoing reconstruction needed [Stop]. Please come immediately if possible, even for a short stay [Stop] (Beard, v).



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