"Education is our life, from morning to evening, year in and year out. When the flowers bloom and the new leaves sprout, we enjoy these moments with the children we teach. When it rains or when it snows, we have vowed in our humble post as teachers to stay with children through whatever joy and sorrow we face."

—Masuko Kikuyoshi and Sakai Genzō, Fuji Primary School, 1923

Within two weeks of the earthquake, teachers began to gather children for informal classes in parks and other unscathed locations across the city. By mid-October, schools in the most affected areas of the capital had resumed classes in open-air settings before eventually moving into tents. By winter, the construction of temporary barracks to serve as schools had begun. Even though the physical environment was rudimentary at best, teachers had replenished supplies of textbooks, notebooks and pencils, and largely reestablished the education system in Tokyo’s ruined wards within four months of the Great Kantō Earthquake.

The barracks schools marked a turning point in the postdisaster recovery of Tokyo’s schools and education. Teachers could finally conduct classes in an environment more conducive to learning, and children were better protected from the harsh winter conditions. Many children remained in barracks schools for up to six years, until permanent buildings were constructed.

Teachers were instrumental in facilitating children’s recovery and return to school throughout the autumn of 1923. In 1926, the City of Tokyo recognized 2,339 primary school teachers who had rendered distinguished service at the time of the earthquake and helped with emergency relief work.

  • Why did teachers and education officials prioritize getting children back to school so soon after the earthquake? How did they achieve this given the extraordinary circumstances?

  • What challenges did teachers encounter?

  • Apart from teaching children, what other responsibilities did teachers have in the grounds of their ruined schools?

  • How did children respond when they returned to school for the first time after the earthquake?
  • Borland, Janet. Earthquake Children: Building Resilience from the Ruins of Tokyo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2020, chapter 5.

  • Borland, Janet. “Makeshift schools and education in the ruins of Tokyo, 1923.” Japanese Studies 29, no. 1 (2009): 131-143.