Surveying the damage

Knowing the precise extent of deaths, injuries, and property damage was essential for an effective relief effort. Two days after the main shock, the City Magistrate offices ordered all neighborhood heads to conduct a survey of deaths, injuries, and several types of property damage. The next day, officials extended the order to cover damage to structures.[1] The neighborhood heads conducted their surveys at that time and conducted a second round of surveys during the middle of the same month. There were practical problems in compiling accurate statistics. For example, most of the fires had been extinguished or brought under control by the end of the fourth day. The neighborhood heads did not include the charred remains of burned buildings in their figures for collapsed buildings, thus undercounting that category. Furthermore, some neighborhood heads counted buildings (ken) while others counted roof beams (mune), even though in some areas a single beam supported the roof of as many as six residential units. Despite such inconsistencies, the survey results enabled bakufu relief officials to direct resources to the neediest areas. Moreover, statistics for commoner casualties derived from the surveys were generally accurate, and it is likely that city officials leaked the casualty data to the popular press to counter wildly exaggerated rumors about the death toll.[2]

Actual townspeople deaths ranged from zero in the Azabu area to 1,186 in Fukagawa. Comparing adjacent areas, the relatively more densely populated commoner district around Nihonbashi, Nakabashi, and Kyōbashi suffered sixty-nine deaths, compared with over seven hundred estimated deaths just across the moat in less densely populated Daimyo Lane. Again, soil base trumped all other factors in determining casualty rates. Several contemporary sources mention the survey results, usually divided into twenty-one districts (kumi), with male and female death and injury statistics for each. Saitō Gesshin lists a grand total of 4,293 deaths and 2,759 injuries, and Fujiokaya Diary (Fujiokaya nikki) is nearly the same, listing 4,303 deaths and 2,784 injuries.[3] Mishima Masayuki provided a more detailed breakdown for deaths. He recorded commoner deaths (no injuries, no male-female breakdown) for each of roughly four hundred neighborhoods and arrived at a figure of 4,616.[4] Jōtō Sanjin's Account of Broken Windows (Yabure mado no ki) claimed a figure of 3,895 commoner deaths based on reports submitted to the City Magistrate offices, with very little breakdown of the figures. Later, he surmised the total military, civilian, and shrine and temple death toll as “surely 10,000.”[5] Record of the Times also states a commoner death toll of 3,895, based on figures from eighteen districts (not twenty-one), which is surely why the total is slightly less than what Gesshin or Masayuki reported.[6] Assuming a slight undercounting owing to unofficial residents, townspeople who may have died while serving in warrior households, or simple oversight, total civilian deaths were in the range of four to five thousand. Given an 1855 commoner population of roughly 540,000, the overall civilian death rate was less than 1 percent.[7] Even if deaths in military households were somewhat higher than those of townspeople, the Edo-wide death toll would still have been roughly 1 percent. The Ansei Edo earthquake was deadly, of course, but the overall fatality rate was low—a point that some bakufu officials probably wanted the public to know.

In the confusion and panic of the main shock and its aftermath, however, rumors abounded of much higher death rates. Land and Sea Earthquake Record (Kainai jishinroku) reported three thousand deaths in Shin-Yoshiwara and eighty thousand in the city as a whole.[8] Record of the Great Edo Earthquake of Ansei 2 (Ansei itsubō Edo daijishin hikki) gives a figure of one hundred thousand deaths for the whole city.[9] After providing a detailed assessment of death and damage leading to a grand total estimate of ten thousand deaths, Sanjin states that he is aware of rumors of death tolls of “more than 30,000, more than 50,000, and in extreme cases more than 210,000 people, all found as hearsay in written materials.” He assures his readers that “they are all rumors not to be taken seriously” and worries that if transmitted to later generations, such exaggerations will be taken as facts.[10] Indeed, we see in chapter 6 that claims for this earthquake ranging from several tens of thousands of deaths to one hundred thousand were common during the Meiji period and into the twentieth century.

The confusion following the main shock, combined with the tendency of rumors to multiply bad news, in part explains the exaggerated casualty statistics. Another contributing factor was that high-profile areas of the city such as Daimyo Lane and Shin-Yoshiwara experienced particularly dramatic devastation. More concretely, the death toll was high enough, particularly in the worst-hit areas, that the supply of coffins, or even reasonable substitutes, was inadequate. One of several iconographic images of the earthquake was people carrying bodies to temples in a wide array of makeshift containers. A large visual image in the sensational booklet A Close Look at the Earthquake and Fires (Jishin narabini shukka saikenki) shows a street full of people, most of whom are transporting bodies. Barrels, stretchers, large boxes, carts, liquor vats, stretchers, boards suspended on ropes, and possibly even a chest of drawers serve as coffin substitutes.[11] Ansei Chronicle (Ansei kenmonshi) includes a similar image.[12] After claiming that the day after the earthquake “the dead formed a mountain,” Record of the Great Edo Earthquake of Ansei 2 explains that tubs, sake barrels, noodle boxes, and charcoal bags served as containers for the dead, some of whom were even wrapped in ropes and carried on poles.[9] Record of the Times mentions tubs, urns, sake barrels, oil barrels, sugar barrels, sōmen barrels, and even neighborhood water cisterns.[14] Miyazaki Narumi in Accounts of the Ansei Earthquake (Ansei itsubō jishin kibun) also mentions several of these containers and points out that soy sauce barrels served as coffins for children.[15] The sight and smell of so many bodies, some of which were charred or otherwise disfigured, must have been a source of social tension until the excess bodies were finally brought to temples after several days.[16]

  • [1] For the initial survey order and preliminary data, including property damage, see NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 52, 53–56. See also 59–60 regarding follow-up and 90–95 for decrees from the Machigaisho and preliminary data.
  • [2] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 45–52, 71, 74–79, 114–115 (regarding survey results appearing in the press). The data for casualties appears in tabular form on 46, and an image of the popular press report of casualty figures is on 113. See also Kitahara, “Saigai no shakaizō,” 59–60, with the data in tabular form in Chūō bōsai kaigi, 1855 Ansei Edo jishin hōkokusho, 97. This case was probably not the first instance of bakufu officials providing government information to popular publishers. In the context of discussing commercial publication since the middle seventeenth century of an encyclopedic genre known as Military Mirrors (bukan), Mary Elizabeth Berry concludes that “the Tokugawa administration itself was the major supplier of Mirror material.” See Berry, Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 110.
  • [3] Saitō, Ansei itsubō bukō chidō no ki, 23–24, and “Fujiokaya nikki (ge),” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 410–412. Kitahara bases her analysis of casualties on the figures of 4,293 deaths and 2,759 injuries. See Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 46, and Chūō bōsai kaigi, 1855 Ansei Edo jishin hōkokusho, 97, for a presentation of the data in tabular form.
  • [4] “Nai no nochimigusa,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 574–579.
  • [5] “Yabure mado no ki,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 556–557, 558.
  • [6] “Jifūroku,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 539–542.
  • [7] The 540,000 figure comes from Kitahara, “Saigai no shakaizō,” 60.
  • [8] “Kainai jishinroku,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 503.
  • [9] “Ansei itsubō Edo daijishin hikki,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 516.
  • [10] “Yabure mado no ki,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 558.
  • [11] Anonymous, Jishin narabini shukka saikenki (publisher unknown, 1855), image spanning 7–8. To view the image, see kosho/wo01/wo01_02952/wo01_02952_p0009.jpg.
  • [12] AKS, vol. 3, illustrations by Utagawa Kuniyoshi et al., author(s) and publisher unknown, 1856, twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth page faces. To view the image, see wo01_04209_0003/wo01_04209_0003_p0014.jpg.
  • [13] “Ansei itsubō Edo daijishin hikki,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 516.
  • [14] “Jifūroku,” in DNJS, vol. 2 (otsu), 539.
  • [15] “Ansei itsubō jishin kibun,” in NJS, vol. 5, supplement 2, part 1, 433.
  • [16] Kitahara, Jishin no shakaishi, 111–112.
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