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Traces That Remain:
A Pictorial History of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Faith among the Japanese

by Barbara R. Sims

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Chapter 28

28. The Kanto Earthquake

The great Kanto earthquake of September 1, 1923 devastated parts of Japan, especially Tokyo and Yokohama. What the earthquake didn't shake down, the fires, which raged for three days, burned down.

Miss Alexander and Mrs. Finch were in their little house when it happened. They managed to get outside in time to see the front wall of the house fall out. However, they could still use the house.

Many survivors were left homeless; especially pitiful were the lost children. The small group of Bahá'ís started an orphanage and joined with others to care for the children. Mrs. Finch, who had left Tokyo for her home in Seattle shortly after the earthquake, started to collect clothing and money from the Americans which she sent to Miss Alexander for the children. The Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, and other members of the Holy


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These were among Miss Alexander's photographs of the Kanto earthquake.

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Household contributed funds to be used to alleviated the situation.

Besides the efforts made by Miss Alexander and Mrs. Finch, worthy of note were those made by three other Bahá'í women, Miss Murakami, Mrs. Takeshita, and Miss Hide Tanaka.

Miss Murakami and Mrs. Takeshita are mentioned again in 1932 and 1933 as being members of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Tokyo.

Miss Alexander wrote an account of the great Kanto earthquake to the Bahá'ís of India. She often wrote to Bahá'ís of other countries because the Guardian had encouraged such communication. This letter, printed in the Bahá'í News of India, is perhaps more revealing about that dear soul, Miss Alexander.

Most beloved friends of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, September 26, 1923

Many days have passed since the great catastrophe of September 1st. That day our beloved Lord protected His servants in these parts. A week before, Mrs. Ida Finch had come from Peking on her way to America and was with this servant in the little Bahá'í home. When the earth began suddenly to shake, we two were sitting in the parlour, which His Love had blessed so many times and where peace can be found. The little house is back from the street in Ukyomachi. This servant had been


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Miss Alexander with Miss Murakami and Miss Hide Tanaka shortly after the earthquake.

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warned when coming to Japan, that in case of a great earthquake, it was best to escape to an open place to avoid falling objects. When the house began to quake and rock, she immediately rushed to the street, but Mrs. Finch did not get farther than the garden. On the street this servant met a delivery man passing. He grasped her hand and kept her standing. The earth shook and quaked, tiles rolled from the neighboring houses, and then a fierce gust of wind swept darkening the atmosphere with the dust it carried. Through it all, this servant repeated aloud the Greatest Name. Her first apprehension was that Tokyo would be consumed by fires. At her request the delivery man went to meet Mrs. Finch and by the hand brought her to the street. Then this servant rushed back into the home to get her Tablets, her money, etc., for safety. The walls of the little house had been shaken and broken and everything was scattered on the floor. She grasped 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet for Protection, and each successive time the earth shook, she read it aloud on the little street. Three more times the earth shook with terror, but as the Tablet was read it calmed and His Power was felt. The frightened people came from their houses and gathered on the street. We little knew then, the terrible things which were happening not only in Tokyo, but the destruction of Yokohama, the sea port, an hour's train ride from Tokyo, and the destruction of many places

Miss Murakami and some of the children the Bahá'ís took care of.

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along the coast.

Evening came and we laid ourselves down to rest in the little parlour to escape, if necessary. Beside His portrait this servant found a place to rest. During the night we were called to escape, as the fire was drawing near, but it proved not to be necessary. The next two days we remained by the house, as safety was not assured when the earth continued to shake. On the morning of the third, the fire had ceased to burn. The glare no longer was seen in the sky. For days after the great quake and fire, masses of humanity passed along the broad roadway into which Ukyomachi leads, coming from the burned districts where they had been driven out by fire. Oh, that mass of humanity!

When this servant went to the street, she was dazed, it was too overwhelming to comprehend. Along the roadway there was scarcely anything to be found. Everything had suddenly come to a standstill, but with tremendous energy the government took hold and food was brought in from outer provinces. From the moment of the earthquake everything had stopped. The trains and trams were stopped, similarly gas, electric lights, telephones, etc. On the fourth day, with the help of a kind student friend, I found my way to what had been the American Embassy, but only a few pillars remained. The only center remaining in Tokyo was the new Imperial Hotel. It seemed to be the only place to


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Miss Alexander surrounded by the homeless children.

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get news for foreigners, and there the different embassies were holding their quarters, but all was confusion and everything changed in a moment.

On the tenth Mrs. Finch left Tokyo to be taken by the U.S. government on a steamer going to Seattle ... The afternoon of her departure, the way opened for me to have a boy and his mother who had lost everything in the fire, come to stay with me. They are very happy to find a home.

In the district of Fukagawa, one of our Bahá'í brothers had his home and also a dear young sister, Otoe Murakami, worked there in an office, but they were protected by His Love. Miss Murakami escaped with two young friends dodging the fire, here and there, seeing the terrible sights until she reached her home in the suburbs. Mr. Tanaka, our dear brother had started that morning with his little boy of nine years to travel. He said he thought to spread the Bahá'í spirit that way, but they were caught


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    BAHÁ'Í ORPHANAGE AT TOKYO (EARTHQUAKE ORPHANS). NO ONE CAN STUDY THESE EARNEST AND STRONG FACES OF JAPANESE CHILDREN WITHOUT REALIZING THE MARVELOUS FUTURE THAT AWAITS THIS GIFTED RACE.

Miss Alexander sent this photograph to be published in the "Star of the West." It is seen here with the original caption [typed in because font on card too small to scan. -J.W.]. It was taken in front of Mrs. Takeshita's house. She is in the last row holding the baby.

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before reaching their destination and obliged to walk back to the city. They slept by the roadside during the night. In the morning when they reached their home nothing was left, only ashes and those who had fallen by the flames of the fire, or were smothered by its fierceness. Mr. Tanaka lost his wife suddenly in March last. It was a week after the quake before he knew that his mother-in-law was saved and that she had preserved his bank book, for all the banks and post offices in the district were burned. He does not know English well, but through some articles in the newspapers learned of the Great Cause.

Many little children have lost their parents and families in the catastrophe. This servant has sought out these little ones which are being cared for by kind people. In one group there are 110.

To all the friends of God, this servant sends her heart's love, and now she trusts in His Guidance and knows prayers are being uttered on her behalf that she may serve as He wills.

In His Love,

Agnes B. Alexander

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