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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Unknown Tokyo Fire Of 1892

Here’s a tasty tidbit from the past – from the April 30, 1892 news from The Wheeling Register of West Virginia. I have, for fun added an 1892 map of Tokyo. Shinjuku and Shibuya - two current urban hot spots in the city nowadays, are pretty much barren in 1892 - over on the west part of the city.

The article from The Wheeling Register has an interesting subhead which made me want to read the whole thing – and then I find out it was deceiving. Okay… I have no idea if it’s because it’s missing some of the news, or if the news was trimmed just prior to going to print because space was required for something else. You’ll see.


Fires, Mine Explosions, Election Riots, Smallpox and Things.

SAN FRANCISCO, April 20.-The steamer Helgic arrived to-day. She brings details of a great fire at Tokio, Japan on April 10th. The fire started early in the morning in the house of a small restaurant keeper from a candle left burning.

It spread in three directions through densely populated districts. The fire was extinguished by noon after consuming five thousand houses on the twenty streets, including warehouses, police stations, schools and other buildings.

The details of loss of life are meager. It is variously estimated that seventeen to forty-five persons perished.

The steamer Raiden Marou was sunk by floating ice in Kushiro harbor and forty drowned.

There was an election riot in Shoragun April 9th, in which twenty-four persons were seriously wounded.

A native paper states that the Emperor is likely to visit the World’s Fair.

So – where’s the smallpox? The mine explosions?
There was no World’s Fair in 1892, by the way… it was held in 1893 and was called the World's Columbian Exposition (the official shortened name for the World's Fair: Columbian Exposition,) but also known as the The Chicago World's Fair and Chicago Columbian Exposition. It was meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World in 1492.
You’ll notice I did not say his discovery of America… mostly because he never actually touched it. And besides… he certainly wasn’t the first to arrive in North America.

About some 500 years earlier… or so the story goes, an Icelandic Viking trader named Thorfinn Karlsefni set off from the west coast of Greenland with three ships and a band of Norse to explore a newly discovered land that promised fabulous riches. Following the route that had been pioneered some seven years before by Leif Eriksson, Thorfinn sailed up Greenland’s coast, traversed the Davis Strait and turned south past Baffin Island to Newfoundland—and perhaps beyond. Snorri, the son of Thorfinn and his wife, Gudrid, is thought to be the first European baby born in North America.

Of course, that means that seven years previous, Leif Erickson, according to the Sagas of Icelanders, landed and established a Norse settlement at Vinland, tentatively identified with the Norse L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada. That settlement is still in existence, by the way, should you decide to travel to Canada for a look-see. 

For the record... I have no idea where Shoragun is where the paper reported a riot. The problem is that even some 50 years after Japan opened up its borders to the rest of the world, there was still some confusion as to how to spell city names et al. Tokyo, for example, is how we spell the capital city - not Tokio... something that was in existence through the 1940s... if I am to believe my old comic books. In fact... to say Tokyo, it's best to note that it is only TWO syllables, not three. 

Kushiro where the boat sank, is (釧路市) Kushiro-shi, up north in Hokkaido

And... despite the severity of the reported Tokyo fire, I can't find anything about it on-line. We are talking about the destruction of 5,000 houses, after all. It seems like a big deal to me. But I suppose we will just have to go with newspaper accounts like the one from The Wheeling Register for our historical information.

Okay – enough of the travelogue for now. See the world.
Andrew Joseph
PS: Thanks to Vinnie for the heads up on the story from the Readex "America's Historical Newspapers" database. Click HERE for more on Readex, an important library of historical knowledge the rest of the world has no clue about.


  1. Some mentions of the 1892 fire in The Japan Weekly Mail from 1894 here:

    And a somewhat recent re-discovery of Japanese artistry from the 1893 World's Fair -

    Interesting discoveries from my rabbit hole.

    1. Why I am surprised that you continue to amaze me, I have no idea. Thanks for the finds!

    2. Awww, thanks! Gracious of you to say so. I really just needed to get out my head and spin on some non-technological issues (yes, I do this mental health). But it was fun, and you provide such interesting topics ...

    3. Thank YOU. That's the trick... to keep things interesting, knowing that what I like not everyone else gives two figs about. Abstract to the mundane. I heard someone talk about the difficulties in explaining the mundane... like trying to describe what the word "the" is. We all know about it and use it... but what does it mean?
      Tonight... an old news story from January but with the technical details the other media left out. Ugh... must get back to writing something for the aviation blog...up, up and away...