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1923 Earthquake: My Father's Pictures

When a Quake Struck Japan in 1923, Andy Rooney's Father Was There; Some of the Lessons Learned Then and Now Remain the Same

Written by Andy Rooney

My father was in Japan on business in 1923 when one of the worst earthquakes that the world has ever known, struck there killing more than 140,000 people.

Fortunately for my father he was staying at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo which had been designed by the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Imperial sustained some shock damage but remained standing because Wright had seen that it was built to withstand earthquakes. When Dad got home, I remember how he described what it felt like. He said he sat drinking a cup of tea, he said it was tea, in the hotel when the tea began to ripple like a lake, then the building began to sway.

Years later when I was old enough, dad brought out an old box of pictures he'd taken in Japan. The pictures showed whole blocks that were flattened. Broken buildings and dead people were everywhere. The pictures then were incredibly gruesome. I thought I knew more about earthquakes than the other kids on the block because I had seen my father's pictures.

A lot of time passed before the subject of the earthquake came up in conversation with my mother. She told me she had burned dad's pictures because she felt that the world would be a better place if you could keep from thinking about the worst things that happen in it. Mom was like that.

As I read and watched all the coverage in the newspapers and on television of the catastrophe in Haiti, I was reminded of dad's box of pictures from Japan.

It doesn't seem as though so big an earthquake as happened in Haiti could happen here - but I suppose it didn't seem to the Japanese as though it could happen there either.

It's not easy to envision New York or anywhere for that matter after an earthquake. I'd be more worried about my friends and family than the buildings. People are harder to replace.

An earthquake is one of the few things that happen in our world that give us any sign that life here may be temporary.

Written by Andy Rooney