The Ambassador in Japan ( Woods ) to the Secretary of State

Sir: I have the honor to report that my time has been so occupied since the earthquake disaster of September 1st as to prevent me making an earlier detailed report. I now have the honor to advise the Department as follows:

Tokyo was just closing its offices for the Saturday week end when one of the greatest calamities of the world fell upon this section of Japan. The great earthquake of September 1st came at 11:58 A.M. It began with a slight tremor, but rapidly gained in force and continued for fully five minutes. There was a great grinding roar, and the crash of many falling buildings filled the air, while the dust that rose was like a pall over the city. The whole afternoon was one of terror. Shock after shock came, with fires breaking out in every direction, while the streets were filled with a seething mass of humanity just escaped from death by the earthquake and once more fleeing for their lives as the flames drove them on. The water mains were broken by the first shock, and a high wind was blowing so that the fires spread with great rapidity. They were soon beyond control.

The Embassy buildings and chancery were so badly wrecked by the first shock as to make it exceedingly dangerous for anyone to be in them. The side wall of my private office fell just after I left the room and there was danger of the entire building collapsing in any one of the shocks which were continuing to come. The occupants had already narrowly escaped death, and I deemed it advisable not to ask them to again enter the buildings for the purpose of removing the furnishings. When the fire came later the buildings and their entire contents were therefore totally destroyed, except articles contained in the vault.

The Department may be interested to learn that even at the date of this despatch the shocks are continuing, although of no great violence.

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Immediately following the terrible night of earthquake and fire, I endeavored to get into communication by telegraph with our people in the world outside and to ascertain whether our American colony in Tokyo was safe. No word of the destruction elsewhere had reached us. I soon learned that the cable service, telegraph and commercial wireless had all ceased to function, but finally the Minister of Marine was persuaded to send three short messages for me by radio from their Japanese naval vessels. These messages were first, to the Admiral of our Asiatic fleet, requesting him to come here at once bringing emergency food supplies; second, to Governor General Wood at Manila, requesting him to send food and medical supplies by fast boat; third, to the Department of State, advising it that I believed all Americans were safe and urging the sending of supplies from Manila.

As a result of these telegrams, the first relief to arrive was American. After sending the telegrams I called upon the Premier; advised him of my action, and told him that the American people wanted the privilege of helping Japan in this great calamity. He was deeply moved by my offer. It was the first made on behalf of any foreign government.

The following day, viz, September 3rd, I appointed Colonel Burnett, Military Attaché of this Embassy, to take charge of all relief work. He at once perfected an organization, and handled the situation with such efficiency, tact and determination as to make it impossible for me to express in words my admiration for his accomplishment. I am enclosing herewith a copy of his report,32 which should be read in connection with this despatch. I shall also advise the Secretary of War of the services rendered by him. I earnestly trust that the War Department will recognize in some tangible way the distinguished service this officer has rendered.

Immediately after the earthquake, practically all the Chiefs of Diplomatic Missions, who were in Tokyo, as well as their attaches, left the city. I take great pride in reporting that every member of our Embassy staff who was in the city and every Embassy clerk not only remained at his post but reported promptly to me for duty and not a man among them even thought of going away. As for those who were out of the city, only one failed to return promptly …

Mr. Wilson and Lieutenant Hulings were also at Chuzenji, but they even walked a considerable distance in order that they might report promptly for duty. Mr. Gray was at Karuizawa and he too hastened to report. Mr. Caldwell was in the chancery at the time of the disaster and rendered valuable service.

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The Assistant Military and Assistant Naval Attachés, who were not in Tokyo at the time … hastened to report to me for duty, and in order to do this every man had to endure hardship, because the ordinary means of transportation had ceased to function. My heart thrills with pride at the loyalty and stamina and efficiency of our Embassy staff in this emergency. While their colleagues in the foreign service were leaving Tokyo in order to escape possible danger and service, these men were either remaining at their post or hastening to it, in order to render service. The American Embassy did not cease to function at any time during or since the disaster, and it is the only Diplomatic Mission here which has so functioned.

It was necessary that a clearly defined policy be adopted in relation to our relief activities. I felt that we had a great opportunity to break down the suspicion and antagonism against the United States existing in the minds of many Japanese, and it was with that thought constantly in mind that I have acted.

I discussed the matter of relief frankly with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and in order to avoid the friction which was sure to follow the sending here of relief workers, who were not familiar with the Japanese psychology, I suggested that the supplies furnished by us, except for our own nationals, be delivered to the Japanese authorities at the wharf for distribution by the Japanese Relief Bureau. The Minister for Foreign Affairs was greatly pleased at this suggestion, and it was later announced as the policy of the Japanese Government applicable to all foreign relief. I have also impressed upon the Japanese Government the fact that the American people wanted to furnish relief in the manner desired by the Japanese; that the wishes of the Japanese were to govern our activities.

Admiral Anderson and General McCoy, immediately upon their arrival, heartily concurred in this policy, and later it was promptly accepted by the American Red Cross. We have therefore had complete unity of action and perfect team work between the Army, the Navy, the Red Cross, and this Embassy.


The promptness and decision with which this emergency has been met by our people has made a deep impression upon both the Japanese Government and the Japanese people. In addition, they are not only sincerely grateful, but they look upon our help as an evidence of our friendship. The old suspicion and antagonism is broken down. Everywhere I go I hear the opinion expressed that our countries at last understand each other, and that we are united in ties of [Page 484] friendship, more strongly than any paper treaty could possibly establish.

I believe these expressions are sincere, and that if we are able to complete our relief work in the same spirit with which it has been carried on up to this point, that we have gone a long way towards securing the lasting friendship of Japan.

I have [etc.]

Cyrus E. Woods
  1. Not printed.