TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida staged a televised disaster drill Friday based on a fictional earthquake in the capital region, as his country marked the centennial of the real-life 1923 Great Kanto Quake that killed more than 100,000 people.
The 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck the Sagamihara area southwest of Tokyo on Sept. 1, 1923, just before noon triggered a widespread inferno in the region, causing most of the victims to perish in the fire. The blaze destroyed nearly 300,000 Japanese paper-and-wood homes as the country suffered major social and economic damage just as it was seeking to modernize.
In the aftermath, thousands of ethnic Koreans were killed as police and others responded to baseless rumors that Koreans were poisoning wells. The rampage has never fully been acknowledged by the government.
Japanese officials are worried another devastating tremblor could happen again. On Friday, the drill simulated the aftermath of a fictional 7.3-magnitude tremblor in central Tokyo at 7 a.m. Kishida and his Cabinet ministers, wearing matching light-blue uniforms, walked to the prime minister’s office for an emergency response meeting to discuss initial measures with hypothetically hard-hit Sagamihara city, the 1923 epicenter.
Japan, which sits on the so-called Pacific “ring of fire,” is one of most quake-prone countries in the world. A magnitude 9.0 quake on March, 11, 2011, off Japan’s northeastern coast, triggered a massive tsunami, killed more than 18,000 and triggered a nuclear diaster.
On Friday, earthquake drills were being conducted at municipalities and schools around the country. At elementary schools, children squatted under desks to protect their heads from falling objects.
Kishida was to join a joint earthquake drill hosted by Sagamihara and joined by eight cities incluing Tokyo.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that Sept. 1 this year represents more than the centennial of the Great Kanto Quake. It serves as a lesson to building structures with more resillience to quakes and fire.
“We will not let the memories of the Great Kanto Quake weather away and (will) do our utmost to take comprehensive measures” as the country braces for another big one in Tokyo and elsewhere, Matsuno said.
The quake came 13 years after Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula began in 1910. Many Koreans, Chinese and Japanese mistaken as Korean, as well as Japanese communists, labor activists and anarchists, were killed by police and paramilitary. There is no official number, and historians say as many as around 6,000 of them were murdered.
At a memorial service held by Korean residents and human rights groups at a monument dedicated to the massacre victims, attendants observed a moment of silence with the sound of a bell at 11:58 a.m., the time the 1923 quake struck. Past Tokyo governors used to send a message of condolences to the ceremony, but the tradition ended in 2017, a year after governor Yuriko Koike took office.
Koike, who attended a drill elsewhere in Tokyo, did not show up at an official annual memorial for quake victims at a hall in the hard-hit Sumida region in downtown Tokyo. She offered condolences to all victims of the quake in a message read by her aide.