The Great Kanto Earthquake and Freemasonry's Charity

James L. Johnston, P.G.M. Grand Lodge of Japan

   The Great Kanto Earthquake (Kanto Dai-
Shinsai) that occurred two minutes before noon
on September I, 1923, has been described as the
worst natural calamity in history, particularly
when considering the subsequent destructive
aftershocks, tidal waves, landslides, explosions
and fires. Over 140,000 people died. The cities
of Tokyo and Yokohama were devastated, with
seven square miles of Tokyo burned and half of
Yokohama destroyed. Soon after the disaster,
numerous relief measures of essential emergen-
cy materials and extensive monetary contribu-
tions were forthcoming from domestic and in-
ternational sources, symbolizing the innate
magnanimity and benevolence of people to
react to suffering humanity.
   The small Masonic community resident in
Japan also responded. Shortly after the earth-
quake, the following notice appeared in the
Kobe City's local English language newspapers:
ALL FREE MASONS are requested to meet at
the Corinthian Hall, 48 Nakayamate-dori, 2
Chome, on Saturday next (I5th instant) at 5
pm, for purpose of discussing what steps. if
any, shall be laken in the matter of assisting in
the distress caused by the late disaster, Sixty-
nine Masons attended this meeting, represen-
ting the five English and two Scottish Lodges in
Japan, and various overseas Lodges. The Right
Worshipful District Grand Master of the
District Grand Lodge of Japan (English Con-
stitution), Brother George H. Whymark,
chaired the meeting. He related the recent
devastation of Tokyo and Yokohama, and
from information received, stated that most of
the Lodges and Chapters there had lost their
regalia owing to the complete destruction of the
Yokohama Masonic Hall (built around 1867,
reputed to be the first all-stone building of
modern design to be constructed in Japan and
had successfully withstood the 1870 earth-
quake), that the Yokohama Lodges were par-
ticularly unfortunate, since most of their funds
were invested in Masonic Hall, Limited, and
that many Masons had had their houses and
possessions destroyed and had badly suffered.
He intimated that those Lodges could use the
Corinthian Hall for their meetings free of
charge, the Kobe Lodges would lend them
regalia, and proposed two propositions which
were unanimously carried by those present:
"That a list be circulated among all Free
Masons to form a nucleus of funds," and
"That all subscriptions, including any that may
be received from Grand Lodges, Lodges or
Brethren abroad, should be devoted to the
assistance and relief of distress among Free
Masons, their families and for the relief of
Lodges which have suffered." Brother S.G.
Stanford then proposed that "Cables be sent to
the Grand Lodge of England and Scotland re-
questing their assistance'' which was approved.
Brother E.H. Hunt offered to pay for the cost
of the two cables. Five Brethren were named to
form a General Committee, with Brothers P.H.
Jones of Albion in the Far East Lodge No.
1401, E.C. as Secretary and G.H. Stacy of
Lodge Hiogo and Osaka No. 498, S.C. as
Treasurer, and were instructed to compile, with
the assistance of Lodge Masters and
Secretaries, a list of all deceased, missing and
distressed Brothers and their families, including
those who required assistance so prompt relief
could be given.
   Shortly thereafter the " Masonic Earth-
quake Relief Fund" was established, and con-
firmation was received that the European and
American communities in Tokyo and
Yokohama had indeed suffered greatly, several
Masons had died, and their homes, possessions
and businesses were destroyed. Many families
either desired to return to their homelands or
required immediate assistance in moving to
Kobe and purchasing winter clothing.
Numerous Masons required aid in reorganizing
their business or short-term assistance until
stocks could arrive from their suppliers in
foreign countries. Donations of 181,767.02 Yen
were received by the Fund from all sources, of
which over ninety percent were from English
Masons. The Fund dispersed assistance on
either a one-time basis or monthly installments
as individual needs dictated. Amounts such as
200 or 500 Yen were common donations, with
6,000 Yen being provided to a dentist to
reestablish his office. Although these donations
seem to be very modest in the light of present
day inflation, consider that the exchange rate at
that time was approximately two Yen to one
U.S. Dollar.
   Heartfelt letters from recipients of the Fund
expressed the following appreciative comments:
"Thank you most sincerely for the wonderful
kindness shown me by Brother Masons . . . I
cannot express in words the sympathy and
generosity shown . . . I thank you with tears of
gratitude for the timely help for a needy and
unfortunate Brother . . . I beg to express my
grateful thanks to kindness accorded me by the
Masonic Fraternity."
   The Fund, aware that several Masons in
Japan were United States citizens, com-
municated with the Grand Lodges of Califor-
nia, Illinois, lowa, Massachusetts, New York,
Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington requesting
donations. The Grand Lodge of California im-
mediately responded with a donation of
$1,000.00, stating, "We place no restrictions
whatever upon the use of this money, trusting
entirely to your good judgement as to how it
should be expended." (This was in addition to
their previous donation of $2,500.00 to the
American Red Cross). Other United States
Grand Lodges wrote, relating they had donated
to other sources such as the Masonic Service
Association or the American Red Cross. Subse-
quent funds from the United Grand Lodge of
England were responsible for rebuilding the
new Yokohama Masonic Hall.
   At this time it is impossible to identify all of
the numerous Masonic donations to the relief
of earthquake victims in Japan, especially in-
dividual contributions; however, communica-
tion with United States Grand Lodges regar-
ding their participation revealed that at least
twenty-five Grand Lodges did indeed con-
tribute. Nine days after the earthquake,
Brother Andrew L. Randell, the Executive
Secretary of the Masonic Service Association,
sent a letter to all Grand Masters in the United
States stating that one of the purposes of the
M.S.A. was "... to function for the Fraternity
throughout the nation as a representative relief
organization in time of great national or inter-
national calamity or disaster." He then describ-
ed the recent disaster in Japan and that he had
communicated with responsible agencies and
individuals to identify a charity that American
Freemasory could assume. He then stated
previous donations to agencies such as the Red
Cross (which conducted an extensive nation-
wide campaign) would provide temporary relief
in matters of food, clothing and shelter, but
that a project of a worthwhile permanent
nature would be a monument to the
benevolence of Masonry. His plan was to
rebuild the American School in Japan, located
in Tokyo, which had suffered extensive
damage, (This school had been built by 11-
lustrious Brother E.W. Fraser, 33 ø, Deputy
for the Scottish Rite (A.A.S.R.,S.J.) in Japan
at a personal cost of $60,000.00) and proposed
that if every Mason in the United States would
donate a minimum of five cents each through
their Grand Lodge, that approximately
$140,000.00 could be raised to rehabilitate and
expand this educational edifice which would
serve mankind for years to come. There was an
immediate response. The Grand Lodge of
Michigan wired $5,000.00, the Grand Lodge of
New Jersey telephoned their pledge of
$3,500.00, and numerous other Grand Lodges
either appropriated or pledged their five cents
per member. The A. & A.S.R., S.J. ap-
propriated $5,000.00 to the M.S.A. school pro-
ject in addition to $10,000.00 for other relief
work. Although the M.S.A. did not reach their
targeted goal, the contributions were signifi-
cant, the American School in Japan was able to
rebuild and survive, and today is a modern
educational institution located in the western
suburbs of Tokyo.
   As Masons we are admonished by the im-
mutable lessons of charity for the unfortunate
and the requirement of assisting a distressed
worthy Brother, his widow and orphans. From
the foregoing, it is evident that those Masons of
sixty years ago clearly took their lessons of
Brotherly Love and Relief to heart, and were
attentive to the sufferers of the Great Kanto

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M.W. Brother Johnston resides at:
  904, 2-52-1, Chofu Jutaku, Kojima-cho,
  Chofu-Shi, Tokyo 182