I wonder what’s going through the minds of the folks at the Yokohama City Board of Education. According to a recent story in the Japan Times the city’s board of education has recalled a junior high school textbook due to its “descriptions of the mass lynching of Koreans following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.” During the aftermath of that massive temblor, fear mixed with old hatreds to create a tornado of violence that swept up Yokohama’s small ethnic Korean community in a path of death and destruction.
In his book, “Yokohama Burning,” Joshua Hammer writes that army commanders “whipped up rumors about Korean well poisonings.” The lies added more fuel to the fire as vigilantes roamed the streets, hunting for human prey.
In my neighborhood of Yokohama, people still recount how a few hundred people fleeing for their lives sought sanctuary in the local police precinct station then under the command of one Tsunekichi Okawa.
The story goes that not long after this desperate group of innocent men, women and children were safely nestled within the confines of the precinct premises, state-sanctioned killers showed up looking for their pound of flesh. It was then that Okawa, a man of quite ordinary stature, emerged from within. Staring the prospect of his own death straight in the eye, he is said to have looked the rabble up and down and told them, “If you want to kill them, you’ll have to take my life, too, but first go and fetch me a jug of that poisoned well water you’re crying about.”
Then jug in hand, Okawa downed the entire contents of the vessel, proving beyond a doubt what he already knew. The poison was all in their minds, where it still seems to be today.
(Originally posted on The Temple Valley Times and later printed as a letter in the Japan Times)