Several years ago, I visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall. Over the years, I’d heard about it but hadn’t been there. It was built to remember two events. One was the Great Kanto Earthquake in which 100,000 people died. The other was the Great Tokyo Air Raid which killed roughly the same number. It is a sobering place.
The hall was completed in 1930. It commemorates two other pieces of history. The first is the massacres of Koreans during the earthquake. And the other is for those who died during the Tokyo air raids of World War II. Both were very tragic events. They needed a place like this where they would be remembered.
The Great Kanto Earthquake and the Tokyo air raids are common knowledge, but not the massacre. It led to many unnecessary deaths. It is a dark page in Tokyo’s history as far as I’m concerned.
During the earthquake, the Ministry of Home Affairs had declared martial law. It warned the police that certain groups might take advantage of the situation. Unfortunately, it also said Koreans were planning acts of terrorism and arson. The newspapers ran the story without checking the facts. And that led to the murders of approximately 6000 people. There wasn’t one prosecution (if I’m mistaken, please let me know).
Visiting Memorial Hall invokes two sets of very different feelings in me. Of course, one is sadness due to the sheer amount of people who died during those events long ago. The other is thinking about how the earthquake and bombings affected Tokyo. And to be honest, the second set of feelings isn’t negative at all.
Inside the hall are pictures of the aftermath of the earthquake and the bombings. They are incredible. The images are all black and whites and show whole areas completely flattened, gone. Nothing left but rubble. In one picture, bodies burnt beyond recognition are stacked upon each other. In both cases, what could the city do when all was in ruin? It got up, started again, and rebuilt itself.
That makes me reflect upon history. These tragic events influenced changed Tokyo. But, if they had not happened, how different would the city be today? Would it be better or not? It is an interesting question to ponder. I only know I am satisfied with what the city has become.
If you ever visit Tokyo Memorial Hall, give a thought to the people enshrined there. And to the destruction that happened around them. It must have been terrifying when they met their fates. As with many such events in history, there is no way we could understand how they felt.
Next to the hall is the Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum. Entry is free, and I urge you to visit it. The museum is small and old and needs upgrading, but the exhibits are compelling. They tell the story of September 1, 1923, very well. It is one of my favorite museums in Tokyo. You wouldn’t spend even half a day there, but that visit will give you something to ponder.
If you are looking for something on the lighter side after visiting here, head to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. If you are into a different type of art, try the Japanese Sword Museum at Yasuda Gardens. Whatever you choose, you’ll find something.
A final note. I should have visited the hall in the morning for these photos. Some of you have probably noticed that the front is in shadow, which means I went there in the afternoon. One day I will get back there in the early morning to get some better pictures!
Where is Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall?
It’s not far from the two Ryogoku Stations. From the JR one, it’s about a ten-minute walk. And if you use the subway, it’s about a five-minute walk. Here is a map:
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.