Welcome to the Earthquake Children Image Archive. This website, containing over 500 images, serves as a companion to my book Earthquake Children: Building Resilience from the Ruins of Tokyo (Harvard University Asia Center, 2020).

The images collated in this website visually document children’s experiences of the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake and daily life in 1920s Tokyo. Sources range from postcards, children’s drawings and photographs, to maps, architectural drawings and memorabilia. In addition to images of and by children, the collection depicts teachers, imperial family members, government officials, policemen, doctors, nurses, foreign tourists, and other adults involved in providing relief, education and care of children in the aftermath of the Great Kantō Earthquake. Beginning from the eve of the earthquake, the images are organized into the following eight categories: Epicenter of Vulnerability; Earthquake & Fires; Objects of Concern; Agents of Recovery; Back to School; Earthquake Lessons; New Schools & Parks; and, Remembrance & Commemoration.

I have designed the archive primarily as a teaching and learning tool for undergraduate courses I teach at International Christian University in Tokyo. Each section includes questions intended for further discussion alongside the corresponding chapters in my book Earthquake Children. Today, as Japan marks the 100th anniversary of the Great Kantō Earthquake in September 2023, I hope your visit to this website also encourages you to review your own knowledge of what to do in the event of a future earthquake, wherever you are in the world.

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, my book 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. I trace 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, my book 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.

Link to Publisher:

Epicenter of Vulnerability
Earthquake & Fires
Objects of Concern
Agents of Recovery
Epicenter of Vulnerability
Earthquake & Fires
Objects of Concern
Agents of Recovery

2020 Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities First Book Prize, Winner
2020 Grace Abbott Book Prize (Society for the History of Children and Youth), Winner
2021 NSW Premier's History Awards, General History Prize, Shortlisted
2022 W. K. Hancock Prize, Australian Historical Association, Shortlisted

"Earthquake Children is essential reading for historians of childhood and of disaster, but it has much to inform other histories as well. Women and men (and other adults somewhere in between) are not the only movers and shakers of scientific advances, technological innovations, and social change; generation and childhood contribute as well, and we should consider them much more often."

—Sabine Frühstück, Contemporary Japan

"I absolutely loved this book and have continued to think about it long after I finished reading the last page. It stands as an unforgettable reminder of how important it is to listen to what children have to say and to invest in their futures."

—Lori Peek, International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters

"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

"[Borland’s] research is thorough, her writing is often vivid, and the book is very well illustrated. Whether using her own words or those of Japan’s children, the author is able to convey a vivid sense of the horror of an event like the Great Kanto Earthquake and the difficulties faced by many survivors… Earthquake Children will appeal to anyone interested in social responses to earthquakes and other disasters in urban areas, to those interested in the history of children, and to anyone interested in the modern history of Tokyo."

—Gregory Smits, Monumenta Nipponica

"This fascinating and well-researched volume makes a clear case for the important roles played by children and those thinking about children in the aftermath of the Great Kantō Earthquake. Children were symbols of vulnerability, resilience, and hope, and they were also vessels through which the lessons learned in the quake could be mobilized for future disasters. This book will be a worthwhile addition to libraries and useful for scholars of disasters and childhood."

—Alex Bates, Pacific Affairs

There is a 70 percent chance of an earthquake striking Tokyo in the next 30 years. Are you prepared?



About the Author
Janet Borland is a historian of modern Japan. She is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of History at International Christian University, Tokyo. www.janetborland.com

This image archive is a direct outcome from my project “Lessons from Japan: Empowering Children, Promoting Disaster Preparedness, and Helping Communities Recover,” which was awarded the 2021 Faculty of Arts Knowledge Exchange Award, and generously funded by The University of Hong Kong.

I am grateful to Phoebe Tang and Wilhelmina Ko for their assistance in creating this website.

Rights and Permissions
Images in the Earthquake Children Image Archive may be used for educational and scholarly purposes, and any such use requires that a credit line be included.

Credit Line:
Earthquake Children Image Archive, 2024, www.earthquakechildren.com