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Tested With Shibboleth

Posted by feww on September 1, 2013

Remembering Koreans massacred after Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923

As Tokyo prepares to mark the 90th anniversary on Sept. 1 of the Great Kanto Earthquake, a citizens group is trying to remind people of another tragedy that accompanied the terrible loss of life: the mindless slaughter of thousands of ethnic Koreans as rumors swirled in the capital that looting had broken out.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of Sept. 1, 1923, left an estimated 140,000 people dead. Many died in firestorms that overwhelmed open areas in which people took shelter.

On that day 90 years ago, rumors quickly spread that Korean residents in Japan had poisoned wells that provided drinking water or attempted to foment rioting through attacks of arson.

The government declared martial law, which led to a wave of killings of Koreans in the disaster areas. According to some sources, as many as 6,000 Korean people were murdered at the hands of vigilante groups comprising citizens, police and soldiers. [Asahi Shimbun]

Postquake massacre of ethnic minorities and political opponents


The Home Ministry declared martial law, and ordered all sectional police chiefs to make maintenance of order and security a top priority. A false rumor spread was that Koreans were taking advantage of the disaster, committing arson and robbery, and were in possession of bombs.

Anti-Korean sentiment was heightened by fear of the Korean independence movement, partisans of which were responsible for assassinations of top Japanese officials and other terrorist activity. In the confusion after the quake, mass murder of Koreans by mobs occurred in urban Tokyo and Yokohama, fueled by rumors of rebellion and sabotage. The government reported 231 Koreans were killed by mobs in Tokyo and Yokohama in the first week of September. Independent reports said the number killed was far higher ranging from 6,000 to 10,000.

Some newspapers reported the rumors as fact, including the allegation that Koreans were poisoning wells. The numerous fires and cloudy well water, a little-known effect of a large quake, all seemed to confirm the rumors of the panic-stricken survivors who were living amidst the rubble. Vigilante groups set up roadblocks in cities, and tested residents with a shibboleth for supposedly Korean-accented Japanese: deporting, beating, or killing those who failed. Army and police personnel colluded in the vigilante killings in some areas. Of the 3,000 Koreans taken into custody at the Army Cavalry Regiment base in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, 10% were killed at the base, or after being released into nearby villages. Moreover, anyone mistakenly identified as Korean, such as Chinese, Okinawans, and Japanese speakers of some regional dialects, suffered the same fate. About 700 Chinese, mostly from Wenzhou, were killed. A monument commemorating this was built in 1993 in Wenzhou.

Metropolitan Police Department burning at Marunouchi, near Hibiya Park

In response, the government called upon the Japanese Army and the police to detain Koreans to defuse the situation; 23,715 Koreans were detained across Japan, 12,000 in Tokyo alone. The chief of police of Tsurumi (or Kawasaki by some accounts) is reported to have publicly drunk the well water to disprove the rumor that Koreans had been poisoning wells. In some towns, even police stations into which Korean people had escaped were attacked by mobs, whereas in other neighborhoods, residents took steps to protect them.[citation needed] The Army distributed flyers denying the rumor and warning civilians against attacking Koreans, but in many cases vigilante activity only ceased as a result of Army operations against it. As Allen notes, the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea provided the backdrop to this extreme example of the explosion of racial prejudice into violence, based on a history of antagonism. To be a Korean in 1923 Japan was to be not only despised, but also threatened and possibly killed.

Amidst the mob violence against Koreans in the Kantō Region, regional police and the Imperial Army used the pretext of civil unrest to liquidate political dissidents. Socialists such as Hirasawa Keishichi, anarchists such as Sakae Osugi and Noe Ito, and the Chinese communal leader, Ou Kiten, were abducted and killed by local police and Imperial Army, who claimed the radicals intended to use the crisis as an opportunity to overthrow the Japanese government.

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