In a horrifying, and little known chapter in the story of the Great Tokyo Earthquake, many of the survivors took out their anger and frustration by murdering innocent Chinese and Koreans.
Tokyo was in chaos in the first few days after the earthquake, and most neighborhoods formed watch groups, originally to keep order and prevent looting. However, rumors soon began to spread that the fires raging across the city had been started by Koreans, Chinese, or Communists who were allegedly using the confusion of the Earthquake to initiate a revolt. The watch groups turned vigilante, lynching accused criminals on the spot. A typical tactic was to force passers-by to speak simple sentences in Japanese. If their accent was judged to be Chinese or Korean they were murdered, often by disembowlment.
The police did nothing to stop these crimes and later help cover them up. The police themselves were involved in rounding up and executing Koreans in at least two recorded instances, one in Ueno and another in Kameido. The police also took advantage of the chaos to murder dissidents that they otherwise could not punish with normal, lawful means - communists, union leaders, and outspoken feminists.
As order was slowly restored, police and government officials decided to cover up the murders. Bodies that had been buried in mass graves were exhumed and then cremated or thrown into rivers. Arrest records were destroyed or falsified. In the end, the total death toll reported by the Ministry of Justice was a laughably low 243. The real total was probably at least 5,000.