Earthquakes with 1,000 or more casualties since 1900. Richter scale unless otherwise stated.
September 1 1923 – Great Kanto – 8.3
Epicentre beneath Izu Oshima island, Sagami Bay, Honshu. Struck Kanto plain at 11:58 am. Devastated Tokyo and Yokohama and surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Shizuoka. 100,000 to 142,000 deaths, mostly in fires. Latter figure including 40,000 missing and presumed dead.
Koreans, Chinese and Okinawans were made scapegoats. Koreans were accused of arson, looting and well-poisoning: thousands were murdered. Japanese used the shibboleth ba bi bu be bo (ばびぶべぼ) to distinguish them from the ruling race, as the Koreans would say pa, pi, pu, pe, po.
Wikipedia list of shibboleths (fascinating).
March 27 1927 – Kita Tango – 7.6
Epicentre in Tango peninsula, Sea of Japan, Honshu, Kansai region (regions are not official administrative units), Kyoto prefecture. Destroyed almost all houses in Mineyama (now part of Kyotango). Felt in Tokyo and Kagoshima. 3,020 deaths.
March 2 1933 – Sanriku – 8.4 (moment magnitude scale)
September 10 1943 – Tottori – 7.2
Epicentre in Sea of Japan off Ketaka, now part of Tottori city, Honshu. Felt in Tottori prefecture and 170 kilometres away at Okayama on the Inland Sea. 1,083 deaths. Although it occurred during the war, information was uncensored and relief volunteers and supplies came from many parts of the Japanese empire, including Manchukuo.
December 7 1944 – Tonankai – 8.1
January 13 1945 – Mikawa – 6.0
Epicentre in Pacific, Mikawa Bay, Honshu, off Kansai region and Mie and Aichi prefectures, at depth of eleven kilometres. 6.0 reading was for Tsu in Mie. 1,180 dead, 1,126 missing. Information was censored, which contributed to large number of deaths.
December 20 1946 – Nankaido – 8.1
June 28 1948 – Fukui – 7.1
January 17 1995 – Great Hanshin – 6.8 (moment magnitude scale)
Epicentre at northern end of Awaji island, between Honshu and Shikoku. Felt most strongly in Kobe and southern part of Hyogo prefecture, Kansai region. Name Hanshin comes from the kanji used to write the names of Osaka and Kobe. 6,434 deaths.
March 11 2011 – Great Sendai – 8.9
Strongest in recorded Japanese history. Epicentre in Pacific, off Oshika peninsula, northeastern Honshu northeast of Sendai, east coast of Tohoku region, Miyagi prefecture. Created tsunamis. Total deaths not yet known, but will be fewer than Kanto/Tokyo (of course) and more than Hanshin/Kobe.
Images at LA Times.
All the earthquakes except Sanriku and Sendai mainly affected the main island, Honshu, at or south of Tokyo. Sanriku and Sendai mainly affected it north of Tokyo.
New building standards prevented several other strong post-1948 earthquakes from bringing heavier loss of life.