Tokyo in Pics


A photography blog about Tokyo, run by Australian photographer Rohan Gillett

Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall - remembering the 1923 earthquake

When returning home from a visit to the Sumida Hokusai museum, I decided to make a detour and visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall near Ryogoku station to grab a few pictures for this blog article.  The hall was built in memory of the over 100000 people who died during the Great Kanto earthquake of September 1, 1923.  Just outside the hall are two other memorials, one to commemorate the Koreans who were murdered after the earthquake and the other to commemorate those who died during the air raids of World War Two.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall

Whenever I go there I often have two sets of very different feelings.  One is of course sadness, due to the many people who died during those events of long ago.  However, I also think about the effects the earthquake and bombings have had on the city of Tokyo.  Enter the hall and you will soon understand.

The altar of the hall

Inside are pictures of both the aftermath of the earthquake and of some of the bombings.  They are quite incredible to say the least.  The pictures are all black and whites and show whole areas completely flattened, completely gone.  Nothing left but rubble.  In one picture, there are just bodies, burnt beyond recognition, stacked upon each other.  In both cases what could the city do when all was in ruin?  Get up and start again, rebuild.

The memorial for the Koreans who were murdered after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake

The memorial for those killed in Tokyo during the air raids of World War 2

It makes me reflect upon history.  Even though those events of long ago were completely tragic, they were so important in the shaping of modern Tokyo.  If they had not happened, how different would the city be today?  Would the city be better or not?  Of course, that is a question that will never be answered but it is an interesting question to ponder.  All I can say is that I am satisfied with what the city has become.

If you ever visit the Tokyo Memorial Hall, I hope you give a thought to all the people who are enshrined there and to all the destruction that happened around them.  It must have been truly terrifying when they met their fates.

School children entering the hall for a ceremony

The hall is located in Sumida ward’s Yokoamicho park and also on the grounds you can find the Kanto Earthquake Memorial museum.  Entry is free and I strongly urge you to visit it.  The museum is quite small and old and in need of upgrading, but the exhibits are very powerful.  I think they tell the story of September 1, 1923 very well.  It is one of my favourite museums in Tokyo.  The hall and the museum won’t take up all your day, or even half your day, but they will give you something to think about.

The rear of the hall