A century on from the Great Kanto Earthquake, movements are ongoing to commemorate the massacres of Korean residents unjustly targeted in its wake by baseless rumors, alongside other innocent lives lost in the witch-hunt.

Near the banks of the Arakawa River in Tokyo's Sumida Ward, a monument engraved with the Chinese character meaning "mourn" was erected by a citizens' group in 2009 after they gathered accounts from around 100 eyewitnesses to unearth historical truths.

"Words alone float away and disappear. We must leave something visible behind," said one of the group's founding members ahead of the anniversary of the quake, which left about 105,000 people dead or missing in Tokyo and surrounding areas.

Photo taken in July 2023 shows a memorial monument near the banks of the Arakawa River surrounded by South Korea's national flower "mugunghwa," or Hibiscus syriacus. (Kyodo)

In the aftermath of the magnitude-7.9 temblor that rocked the metropolitan region on Sept. 1, 1923, many Korean residents were massacred by the military, police and vigilante groups over false rumors that they were causing riots or poisoning wells.

While the total number of deaths remains unclear to this day, a Japanese government report said in 2009 that "a thousand to several thousands" of Koreans died and that "the expression 'massacre' was appropriate."

Shin Min Ja, the director of Hosenka, the nonprofit organization that manages the memorial, said she was fearful when she first learned about the massacre in her 20s, and, as a Korean resident herself, wondered what might happen to her in similar circumstances.

The 73-year-old got acquainted with young people vising the memorial, leading to the launch in spring last year of a group calling itself "Penyeon," which means "100 years" in Korean. They started gathering monthly to hold study sessions and read testimonies at the site of the massacres.

"I feel (the massacres) are a problem closely related to racism today. Learning about it is also a form of resistance," said Satsuki Nakai, 29, one of around 20 active members of the group.

Meanwhile, a director known for his documentary film on the AUM Shinrikyo cult that was behind crimes including the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system, released a new film Friday based on a murder incident that occurred five days after the quake.

In the feature film "September 1923," Tatsuya Mori sheds light on a buried piece of history about the killing of nine Japanese, including children and a pregnant woman, by vigilantes in the village of Fukuda -- now known as Noda -- in Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo.

Director Tatsuya Mori (C) conducts a pre-shoot check for the movie "September 1923" at Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture, on Sept. 14, 2022. (Kyodo)

It is believed the vigilantes mistook the traveling group of 15 merchants from Kagawa Prefecture for Koreans, as they could not understand the western Japan prefecture's dialect.

The 67-year-old director first learned about the incident through a small newspaper article on a movement to establish a memorial to the victims, but recalls that he soon found that hardly any records remained.

He later discovered that the nine Japanese individuals who were mistaken for Koreans and killed were actually from severely ostracized "buraku" communities.

"The situation was complex and not straightforward. There are hardly any people who will talk about it," Mori said.

The 54-year-old president of a neighborhood association in one of the victims' hometowns speculates that the six surviving members of the group and their families likely "gave up on speaking out as they felt it wouldn't make a difference," due to the discrimination against their community.

While many people in his community believe that the incident has not been resolved as there were no apologies from the assailants, the association president said he does not want the issue to draw attention, saying the nine were not killed because of discrimination against buraku.

"Digging up the incident might lead to younger generations experiencing discrimination against our community once again. We don't want our children to experience the discrimination we went through," he said.

A producer invited Mori to join the film project after learning of his interest in the incident, and many well-known actors also agreed to take part in the film despite its sensitive nature.

"It was an incident where distortions and contradictions of the modern era were condensed, and should be remembered properly. Japan had a tendency to turn away from inconvenient history. Even now, nothing has changed," Mori said.

Related coverage:

Japan marks centenary of Great Kanto Earthquake disaster

Rare artwork found showing elephant rescue in 1923 Kanto quake chaos

Hokkaido startup aims for the stars with high-altitude balloon trips