Blogging 1923 Massacre of Koreans in Japan: Bringing to Life People Fossilized in History

Blogging 1923 Massacre of Koreans in Japan: “September, on the Road in Tokyo” – Genocide Warning

Naoki Kato 2020-04-09

On the night of August 31, 2013, Naoki Kato(47) and his colleagues went live with an Internet blog entitled “September, On the Road in Tokyo”( in order to raise awareness of the genocide of Koreans from the Joseon Period after the Great Kanto Earthquake.


▲ Naoki Kato, the founder of the blog “September, On the Road in Tokyo”  ©Femin

The Great Kanto Earthquake occurred on September 1st, 1923, in the Kanto region of Japan and caused the death of a significant number of people. In the midst of the chaos and unrest, a rumor spread that Koreans had poisoned all the wells. This resulted in a massive manhunt in which countless Koreans were killed. It is presumed that the number of victims stood at about six-thousand. However, the Japanese government officially announced that there were only 233 victims, leaving the truth still unclear.


Naoki Kato and his colleagues researched and found historical evidence and testimonies, and went on location to take photos of the actual site. Based on these [investigations], they wrote about the tragedy which happened at that place ninety years ago, regularly updating the blog according to the order of the timeline in which this disastrous event occurred. This blog created such a commotion in Japanese society that it was published in March 2014 as a book, with the same title as the blog, and became the subject of heated conversation. 


Reading Naoki Kato’s description of the process of creating and managing the blog, one comes to see him as a person who lives in a past and present which are distorted and erased by lies, but who deeply feels and spreads the truth [about the past and present], and makes [them] an indicator for the future. (Introduction and editing by Femin editor Junko Kurihara)


When a natural disaster occurs, do foreigners create riots?


What triggered my interest in the Great Kanto Earthquake was Ishihara’s statement on sangokujin. In April 2000, the Governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, announced that “sangokujin” often commit vicious crimes, and that if a large natural disaster strikes, he will call in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to deal with the disturbances that foreigners will surely cause.


While people were shocked by the term “sangokujin”—a discriminatory term referring to natives of ex-Japanese colonies such as Joseon [Korea], China, Taiwan, etc, who remained in Japan even after its defeat in 1945—I felt even more horrified by his statement that foreigners would create disturbances and crimes that would result in a call to arms.


[Upon hearing this declaration,] my first thought was whether this statement could indeed be true: did foreigners ever take advantage of natural disasters to excite a riot? I remembered that when I had volunteered after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, the people with foreign nationalities had the most difficulty in staying in shelters in the damaged district [because of the Japanese people’s worries about them]. After remembering that, I became more and more curious about the governor’s statement, and recalled their precarious position as minorities.


I then hurriedly started investigating stories about earthquakes which had happened in the past thirty years all over the world. In Italy, there was an incident when many people had converged on grocery stores, but there were no records of military forces being mobilized. In all cases, when a powerful earthquake occurred, there had not been any riots by foreigners—none at all.


Sociologists researching natural disasters point out that “it is a myth that crime is rampant during a disaster.” They also mention that instead, people should be careful about spreading rumors about the disadvantaged and minorities during these moments as tragedies caused by rumors have occurred all over the world. For example, when the Black Plague was rampant in fourteenth-century Europe, the rumor that Jewish people had poisoned wells was propagated and many of them were killed.


An administrative leader spread a rumor


When the Great Kanto Earthquake occurred, the genocide of Koreans did not happen because of a mob or neighborhood watchers starting a panic and killing them, this disaster became a large-scale tragedy because of a rumor spread by the administrative authorities. The rumor that was generated was based on the myth that when a natural disaster occurs, people at the margin of society do bad things. When this rumor was spread by the government, the tragedy [of genocide] came about.


▲ Naoki Kato’s book September, On the Road in Tokyo, published March 2014  ©

Recalling Ishihara’s statement in 2000, the rumor was spread by the administrative leader.


My motive to start the blog “September, On the Road in Tokyo” arose after I came into contact with hate speech by Zaitokukai,—a citizens’ group against the privileges of the Korean-Japanese in Japan—in Shin-Okubo, Tokyo, where I was born and raised. They hung a placard with the words “Shameless Koreans” in the street. Seeing it reminded me of the genocide of Koreans ninety years ago and sent shivers throughout my body. All of Tokyo became a place for genocide.


My colleagues and I who were there to counter-demonstrate against this group distributed our pamphlets about the 1923 genocide of Koreans. However, even the people who were in opposition to Zaitokukai did not accept our connecting their words of hate to the genocide of Koreans. It was at this point that I felt a sense of crisis and thought that I should make my voice heard immediately. 


It is important to “know” and “feel” at the same time


My biggest concern was how to deliver historical facts via the blog. Historical revisionism denying the Nanjing Massacre—the December 1937 massacre of Chinese civilians committed by the Japanese military in Nanjing, which was the capital of China, and in its neighboring area—and denying Japanese military sex slavery is gathering strength. Unless the blog was carefully planned, even inducing people just to visit it might become difficult.


I think that it is important to both “know” and “feel” history at the same time. Therefore, I came up with a way to update a post with its timeline matching that of the genocide in order to [make people fully] experience the events.


The part I was most apprehensive about was [exposing] the fact that behind both victim and perpetrator was a human being who had a personality. The rallying cry “Kill Koreans” meant that those who shout this consider Koreans not as human beings but as symbols. I wanted to “defrost” these symbolized people into human beings.


▲ At Nishiojima Station, Koto, Tokyo  ©From Naoki Kato’s blog “September, on the Road in Tokyo”

On August 31st, when I wrote the first post on the blog, I was the most afraid. I worried that the blog would fail. *Smile* However, the very next day, the content of the blog had started to spread via Twitter, and in October, the number of visitors on the blog reached fifty thousand.


One visitor wrote: “This is not something that happened ninety years ago but something that is happening now.” I realized that there were people who looked at this disaster from long ago with a sense of reality about what is happening here and now in the present.


Let us rewrite history with the memories in which the other exists


Today, Japan is placed in the situation where it must face “the other” whom it had not needed to think about before. The arrogant Japanese view of the world in which Japan is the only model of modernization and democratization in Asia—and their belief that China and South Korea will someday become like contemporary Japan—has been dispelled as both South Korea and China have established their own history.  I think that the anti-Korean and anti-Chinese discourses were caused by a hysterical reaction on the part of the Japanese who realized that these countries have progressed so fast on their own and in a different way than Japan.


The reason why the memory of the genocide of Koreans in the days after the Great Kanto Earthquake disappeared from Japanese society is that this disaster is outside of their “national history.” What Japanese people remember is the history in which Japan leapt forward as a peaceful nation after its impoverished days when fields were reduced to ashes by air raids [in WWII]. However, Tokyo is not a city built through the efforts of only Japanese people. Moreover, the genocide of Koreans after the earthquake is also a historical memory. Today, what we need is to rewrite our history with memories in which the other also exists.


However, because of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration’s approval of the Collective Right of Self-Defense of Japan, it is possible that any war waged in the future would be one where there would be peace on Japanese soil but a conflict on foreign soil where the Japanese military or even young children might be used as invaders and die as such.


Considering a possible war realistically becomes more and more difficult if we don’t change the way we look at our past experiences of war. We should look at the past through the perspective of which crisis of war we are now confronted with. I think we will find the answer to how we should deal with [the next crisis] by probing into the Japanese history of the Sino-Japanese War, the Vietnam War and in foreign history.


This article is from the Japanese feminist journal Femin, which has an affiliation with . The original Japanese version was translated into Korean by Joo-young Koh.


By Naoki Kato

Published: November 21, 2014

Translated by Jieun Lee


*Original article:

기사입력 : 2020-04-09

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