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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1923- Tokyo Earthquake and Typhoon

On midday, September 1, 1923, the city of Tokyo and its surrounding areas were hit with a magnitude 8.3 earthquake. Just moments after the initial shock, the wind significantly picked up as a typhoon passed off the coast of the Noto Peninsula in Northern Japan.

Areas that appear to be multiple neighborhood blocks, destroyed.
Destruction in Yokohama following the 1923 Earthquake and Typhoon. Fires that began during the earthquake were quickly spread by the winds of the typhoon which passed offshore, producing very little ran for the fire stricken region. Source: Public Domain

The storm produced very little rain, however its winds were significant. As most residents were preparing lunch when the earthquake hit, and with open fire as the general cooking method at that time, the shock caused the cooking fires to escape their bounds and grow. The 97 km/h (60 mph) winds of the nearby typhoon spread the flames and created horrifying firestorms. Because the earthquake had caused water mains to break, the fires were not put out until late in the morning on 3 September. The fires were the biggest causes of death. Had the typhoon produced more rain, the death toll of 99,300 would have potentially been much lower and the complete devastation of the city far less.

Fast Facts:

  • The damage was so severe in Tokyo that some government officials insisted the capital be moved and proposals for a new capital city were seriously discussed.
  • Some researchers believe that the presence of the typhoon may have actually triggered the earthquake. The force of the atmospheric pressure from the typhoon pressing on a shallow and already stressed fault line may have triggered the initial shock. This in combination with greatly increased wave action, The ever active fault line in question, which is not more than 16 miles beneath metropolitan Tokyo, runs into the junction of three major, layered tectonic plates: The Pacific plate, the Eurasian plate and the Philippine plate.


Vischer, Stephen S. “Tropical Cyclones and Earthquakes.” Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. 1924. Vol.14, No. 3, Pp 181 – 184.

Morozova, L.I. “Typhoons and Seismicity.” Doklady Earth Sciences. 2006. Vol. 410, No. 7, Pp 1132 – 1135. Web.

Hammer, Joshua. Yokohama Burning: The Deadly 1923 Earthquake and Fire That Helped Forge the Path to World War II. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Lovgren, Stefan. “Earthquake Fault Under Tokyo Closer Than Expected, Study Finds.” National Geographic. 14 Jul. 2005. Web. l

“Great Kanto Earthquake.” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

James, Charles D. (2002-10-08). "The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and Fire"

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923: Materials from the Dana and Vera Reynolds Collection A Brown University Library Digital Collection