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border iconLetters from a Century Ago - Japanese Students’ Gratitude to the U.S. after the Great Kanto Earthquake


During the first week of August, a research team from Tohoku University and the World Bosai Forum visited facilities related to Calvin Coolidge, the U.S. President at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake. The reason is to research the letters of Japanese students’ gratitude to the U.S. after the Great Kanto Earthquake. 

The World Bosai Forum, which had been in contact with the Coolidge Foundation and others through the selection and awarding of the 2023 World Disaster Prevention Award, confirmed the existence of letters written by Japanese students to the U.S. immediately after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The research team asked Chris Jeter, a great-grandson of Mr. Coolidge, and was granted permission to make a data copy of the letters for the first time in the world. 

The research team also visited the Coolidge Foundation, Forbes Library, Whitfield Manjiro Friendship Memorial Museum, and others to collect materials and interview curators to investigate what motivated President Coolidge to support.


Despite the lack of airplanes or international telephones at the time of the earthquake, and movements to exclude Japanese immigrants in America, President Coolidge decided to provide massive support on the day he was informed of the very first telegram from Japan: "Conflagration subsequent to severe earthquake at Yokohama at noon today. Whole city practically ablaze with numerous casualties. All traffic stopped." As a result, the U.S. delivered support to Japan faster than any other country, support amounted to more than 20 billion yen in current prices, accounting for 68% of all support from overseas.  

Soon after that, thank-you letters were written by Japanese students in response to this support. The 750 letters we collected in the U.S. were those exact letters. The research team is looking for information about the students who wrote the letters. Most of the students’ names are only in Romanized notation, so we don’t know the exact name of who wrote them. 

If anyone knows anything, please contact the World Bosai Forum. 


What is the Great Kanto Earthquake? 

The Great Kanto Earthquake was a major earthquake that occurred on September 1, 1923, causing significant damage in the capital area of Japan, which is called Kanto. The damage loss was as much as 37% of the GDP at that time of Japan. 

The total number of houses that suffered damage amounted to 370,000, and the number of dead and missing persons reached approximately 105,000. 90% of the deaths were due to fire. For example, in Tokyo city, about 34.7 km², which is 44% of the land, had been burned to the ground.



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