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Earthquake Children

Earthquake Children

Building Resilience from the Ruins of Tokyo

Janet Borland

ISBN 9780674247826

Publication date: 08/11/2020

Japan, as recent history has powerfully illustrated, is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. Today it is also one of the best prepared to face such seismic risk. This was not always the case.

Earthquake Children is the first book to examine the origins of modern Japan’s infrastructure of resilience. Drawing from a rich collection of previously unexplored sources, Janet Borland vividly illustrates that Japan’s contemporary culture of disaster preparedness and its people’s ability to respond calmly in a time of emergency are the result of learned and practiced behaviors. She traces their roots to the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake, which killed over 100,000 people when it struck the Tokyo region.

Beyond providing new perspectives on Japan’s seismic past, the history of childhood, and everyday life in interwar Japan, Borland challenges the popular idea that Japanese people owe their resilience to some innate sense of calm under pressure. Tokyo’s traumatic experiences in 1923 convinced government officials, seismologists, teachers, physicians, and architects that Japan must better prepare for future disasters. Earthquake Children documents how children, schools, and education became the primary tools through which experts sought to build a disaster-prepared society and nation that would withstand nature’s furies.


  • An absorbing book…Narrates the vivid and emotional stories of how children experienced and made sense of the earthquake, how teachers and other adults interpreted the children’s experience, and the subsequent initiatives to develop disaster-preparedness in the public…Succeeds in illuminating the contemporary relevance of this historical study.

    —Kaori H. Okano, Journal of Japanese Studies


  • Janet Borland is Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Hong Kong.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center