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Transpacific Humanitarianism, Hope, and Gratitude following the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923

Sun, June 26, 8:30 to 10:20am, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 122


In early September 1923 as much of eastern Japan lay in ruins, American political, military, and civic elites called on Americans to demonstrate their humanity and give to Japanese in need. Americans from every state and territory gave, often generously, to a range of “Save Japan” or “Japan Disaster Relief” campaigns. Aid targets were doubled then trebled as Americans learned of Japan’s unprecedented disaster through a variety of mediums and empathized with its sufferers. While a numerous factors motivated why people gave, shaped how much they gave, and influenced what they gave—from cash to foodstuffs to building supplies to toys—elites on both sides of the Pacific Ocean hoped this outpouring of succor would foster one thing above all else: enduring amity between both nations. Such desires shaped how American elites and organizations both appealed for relief funds and packaged America’s humanitarian spirit and obligation on national and international stages.

In exploring one of America’s largest humanitarians relief campaigns of the 20th century I will not only document what people gave and illuminate why they offered assistance, but I will also document how Japanese recipients responded to unprecedented humanitarianism. Moreover, I explore how aid was deployed at the epicenter and how Japanese elites dealt with instances of misguided compassion. However significant aid proved to be, I conclude by asking did it have the lasting impact that hopeful elites shared on both sides of the Pacific? What thus, was the legacy of “America’s Tsunami of Aid” for America and Japan?