The Great Kanto earthquake and F. Scott Fitzgerald



How many recall the following striking sentence from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which appears on the second page of the novel, where Fitzgerald first introduces Gatsby? “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away.”

This line may have failed to focus our attention when we first read the book in our younger days. Now, however, as a Japanese seismologist and an American geophysicist (and student of Japanese culture), we would be greatly remiss for failing to take greater note of this statement. Indeed, as The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, it occurred to us that the earthquake Fitzgerald might have been thinking of was the Great Kanto earthquake, which occurred on September 1, 1923 and devastated the Tokyo metropolitan area.