Imperial Hotel Survives Earthquake

The 1923 Great Kantō earthquake struck the Kantō plain on the Japanese main island of Honshū at 11:58:44 am JST on September 1, 1923.

Varied accounts hold that the duration of the earthquake was between 4 and 10 minutes.

The quake had a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale, with its focus deep beneath Izu Ōshima Island in Sagami Bay.

Following the devastation of the earthquake, some in the government considered the possibility of moving the capital elsewhere. Proposed sites for the new capital were even discussed.

After the earthquake, Gotō Shimpei organized a reconstruction plan of Tokyo with modern networks of roads, trains, and public services. Parks were placed all over Tokyo as refuge spots and public buildings were constructed with stricter standards than private buildings to accommodate refugees. However, the outbreak of World War II and subsequent destruction severely limited resources.

Frank Lloyd Wright received credit for designing the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo to withstand the quake, although in fact the building was damaged by the shock. The destruction of the US embassy caused Ambassador Cyrus Woods to relocate the embassy to the hotel. Wright's structure withstood the anticipated earthquake stresses; and the hotel remained in use until 1968.

Despite the severity of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, most of the damage did not come directly from the earthquake itself.

It was coming up to lunchtime on that fateful 1st of September and many people were preparing their food over open fires. At that time, the majority of buildings were made from wood and, as a result, fire spread quickly from house to house, ensuring the destruction of the city.

One of the few buildings to remain standing, after the dust had settled was the Imperial Hotel Tokyo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, the US Embassy was temporarily relocated here at the time due to the destruction of the Embassy building during the earthquake.

The Imperial Hotel was one of the first buildings to be constructed to allow different sections of the walls to move independently from each other - and it worked. The hotel was lucky enough to also have enough space around it so that it remained unaffected by the spreading fires that killed many of the people trying to flee the devastation.