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Japanese Studies Spotlight: The CDDP Great Kantō Earthquake Project: A Collaborative Mapping Project

by Paula Curtis on 2023-11-15T11:28:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

The NCC is collaborating with institutions and scholars to release a monthly series on our blog entitled Japanese Studies Spotlight. These features showcase exciting online collections available to researchers and students in Japanese Studies, introducing the archive or project, describing their contents, and demonstrating how they can be usefully engaged in research or in the classroom. If you are interested in submitting something to the series, please contact Paula R. Curtis, NCC’s Digital Media Manager, at

Toshie Marra, Librarian for Japanese Collection, C. V. Starr East Asian Library, University of California, Berkeley
Muneyuki Natsume, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Humanities, Kyushu University
Keiji Yano, Professor, Department of Geography & Graduate Course of Digital Humanities, Ritsumeikan University

September 1, 2023 marked the 100th anniversary of the Great Kantō Earthquake. One of the most devastating natural disasters in modern Japan’s history, the earthquake and its aftermath killed more than 100,000 people. To mark this important moment of historical reflection, NCC’s Comprehensive Digitization and Discoverability Program Task Force (CDDP) released the “Great Kantō Earthquake (関東大震災) Project” libguide to the public, a compilation of various research and teaching resources and collections related to the earthquake that are held by North American institutions (Fig. 1). Most of the featured materials, which are in both print and digital formats, are based on the survey that CDDP conducted in fall 2022. The CDDP organized these resources into categories, including collections/archives, photographs/postcards, prints/illustrated books, exchange votive slips, newspaper clippings, books, maps, personal narratives, and other disaster-related items.

Figure 1: CDDP’s “Great Kantō Earthquake (関東大震災) Project” libguide

One of the most outstanding features of libguide is the “NCC:CDDP Great Kantō Earthquake Map” (Fig. 2). The map was created in ArcGIS Online to take advantage of its multilayered visualization functions. Using these digital layers it is possible to indicate geospatial information that allows users to explore three characteristic historical maps and various geographic points. Each of these points, marked in different colors, indicates the availability of almost 200 images of postcards, photographs, woodblock prints, and miscellaneous writings held in North American collections. Stars are also used to indicate the locations of more than 100 historical film clips provided by the National Film Archives of Japan (NFAJ) in the “Films of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.”

This image mapping project began as a simple inquiry of how to visually and effectively present different types of materials related to a particular place in an organized fashion. Eventually, the idea of creating this interactive map was proposed and materialized in collaboration between CDDP and a team of Japanese GIS scholars led by Keiji Yano (Ritsumeikan University).

Figure 2: NCC:CDDP Great Kantō Earthquake Map

The NCC:CDDP Great Kantō Earthquake Map project was built upon Yano’s experience with GIS visualization of geospatial information (e. g., old photographs, postcards, ukiyo-e, etc.) for the Virtual Kyoto Project developed by Art Research Center, Ritsumeikan University. The Virtual Kyoto Project has mainly adopted ArcGIS Online, which allows easy construction of WebGIS (e.g., 2D map: Gion Festival space). It has incorporated large-scale, modern historical maps in addition to contemporary maps and aerial photographs of Kyoto. Maps related to this project have been made available in “Modern Kyoto Overlay Maps” (近代京都オーバーレイマップ) and can serve as base maps for exploring modern Kyoto across time and space.

Cadastral maps of Kyoto that were created in the Meiji period (1868-1911) can be used as references for current addresses and GIS data related to these maps are currently under development. Given that Kyoto suffered minimal damage during World War II, these addresses from the Meiji period have been inherited to this day, making it relatively easy to identify locations where old photographs and postcards were taken. However, in the case of Tokyo, which suffered significant damage during the Great Kantō Earthquake, many addresses changed significantly both after the earthquake as well as after the Tokyo air raids during WWII, making it difficult to compare past and present maps.

Under these circumstances, we considered what large-scale maps should be used as base maps for exploring the Great Kantō Earthquake. When the project began, we first hoped to use Japan’s oldest survey maps, known as Daiichi gunkanku chihō 2-manbun no 1 jinsoku sokuzu genzu 第一軍管区地方2万分1迅速測図原図 (1:20,000) (Fig. 3). These maps were completed in 1886 by the Japanese Army Land Survey Department for the Kantō region and have already been converted into WebGIS data 歴史的農業環境閲覧システム by the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences (NIAES). We received permission from the developers at NIAES and were able to import these maps into ArcGIS Online relatively smoothly.

Figure 3: Daiichi gunkanku chihō 2-manbun no 1 jinsoku sokuzu genzu 第一軍管区地方2万分1迅速測図原図 (1:20,000)

However, since the scale of these survey maps were not quite large enough for the purposes of our project and were created about 40 years before the Great Kantō Earthquake, we felt the need to seek a larger-scale map that was dated closer to 1923. We were fortunate that Kazuki Ishikawa and Daichi Nakayama of Tokyo Metropolitan University had already produced raster and vector data (address data with lot numbers at that time) in 2017 for the 1907 Tokyo postal map (1:5,000) (Tōkyō Yūbinkyoku Tōkyō-shi 15-ku banchikaiiri chizu: Meiji 40-nen chōsa 東京郵便局 東京市十五區番地界入地図: 明治40年調査). We therefore asked Nakayama for permission to use the GIS data as the second base map for our project, which he granted. This made it possible to use a detailed 1:5,000 scale map created before the Great Kantō Earthquake as a background (Fig. 4). It is noteworthy that this postal map includes pre-earthquake addresses with lot numbers in 56,089 records (e.g., 1-1 Motoakasaka-cho, Akasaka-ku, Tokyo), as well as the names of large buildings, both of which were helpful for geolocating our historical materials in relation to our map layers.

Figure 4: Tōkyō Yūbinkyoku Tōkyō-shi 15-ku banchikaiiri chizu: Meiji 40-nen chōsa 東京郵便局 東京市十五區番地界入地図: 明治40年調査 (1:5,000)

We incorporated the Tokyo City fire dynamics map (1-manbun no 1 Tōkyō-shi kasai dōtai chizu 1万分の1 東京市火災動態地図) as a third map layer. This map was compiled by the Earthquake Disaster Prevention Investigation Committee of the Ministry of Education and published in 1924. Different from the two previous maps, this one shows post-earthquake damage (especially outbreaks of fires) at the time (Fig. 5).

This fire dynamics map was relied on interviews regarding the timing and direction of the fire damage during the Great Kantō Earthquake, noting the burnt areas, impassable bridges, fire sources, flying fires, red fire flow curves (with arrows at the end of burnout), and green simultaneity lines. These indicators were marked on the 1921 topographic map surveys (1:10,000) published in 1923 (specifically those for the areas of Waseda, Ueno, Mukōjima, Yotsuya, Nihonbashi, Fukagawa, Mita, Shinbashi, and Susaki). Although these eight maps have been digitized and made available by the National Diet Library and other institutions, we used high-definition color images in the public domain that have been made available by the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library. Specifically, eight maps were georeferenced using ArcMap and put together into a single GeoTiff, which then was imported into ArcGIS Online.

Figure 5: Tōkyō-shi kasai dōtai chizu 東京市火災動態地図 (1:10,000) (See also Figure 2)

Once the base maps were selected, the next step was to select the historical materials and images we wanted to link to the target maps. Toshie Marra examined all the images included in the resources provided by respondents to the CDDP survey in 2022. She then identified those pointing to specific identifiable geographic locations, and made a list of those items in an Excel spreadsheet, recording facets such as resource type, title of the image, geographic information, address (when available), citation information, permalink, and the image source for each item. Since a unique permalink is needed for each item to be displayed on the website linked from the maps, only the following sources are currently represented in the “NCC:CDDP Great Kantō Earthquake Map”: Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 (Brown University), Kanto Earthquake Materials, 1923 and undated (Duke University), Kumaichi Hiraoka Postcard Collection (University of Hawai'i, Manoa), and Taishōshin kasai mokuhan gashū 大正震火災木版画集 (1924) (Harvard University). After these materials were organized, student collaborators then sought location coordinates for each item to be displayed accurately across the map layers. We later incorporated historical film clips from NFAJ into the “NCC:CDDP Great Kantō Earthquake Map,” a process made easier through the use of metadata for the film clips that included addresses for some film locations. When that information was not available, student collaborators researched the relevant coordinates.

CDDP considers the Great Kantō Earthquake Project an experiment for collaboratively developing open-access, shareable resources on a particular topic. These efforts allow us to bring to light hidden, academically useful Japan-related materials. We hope that this and other projects like it will be ongoing, as new resources may be discovered or become available at individual institutions that may be added to the libguide or the map. Through the invaluable cooperation of our librarian and scholar colleagues, we may be able to locate more with possible contributions to the Great Kantō Earthquake Project. CDDP hopes that this project will inspire future digitization projects and cooperation among Japan specialists of a wide variety of institutions and organizations around the world. For more information on the project, please visit the libguide.

The CDDP gratefully acknowledges support for the Great Kantō Earthquake images mapping project from the following individuals:

  • Prof. Keiji Yano (Ritsumeikan University)
  • Prof. Muneyuki Natsume (Kyushu University)
  • Prof. Akihiro Tsukamoto (Tokushima University)
  • Michiaki Yuyama (Student, Ritsumeikan University)
  • Sirui Liu (Student, Ritsumeikan University)

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