Hijōji (emergency) was an important keyword in the militarist Japan of the 1930s. Previous scholarship has assumed that such language sprung from the global financial crisis of 1929, and subsequent diplomatic events. Our article demonstrates, however, that a full-bodied language of emergency was crafted well before the collapse of the global economy, and against the backdrop of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which destroyed the Japanese capital. While previous “great earthquakes” had been opportunities to strengthen Japanese participation in the global project of science, this one led more dramatically to a crisis of reason, and indirectly contributed to the spiritual, anti-western, and anti-rational rhetoric of what became the “Showa Restoration.” This and other post-disaster landscapes, we argue, should be examined as compelling sites for the crafting of political language – sites of opportunity and meaning as well as trial. While the phrase “state of emergency” was coined under very different circumstances in post-war Britain, it gained power and charisma in Japan, and likely other places around the world, by its association with natural catastrophe. Thus did modern politics establish a new connection with the traditional realm of the sublime, and in the case of Japan, the supernatural. Emergency's ability to associate politics with nature would never disappear, and has perhaps even strengthened in the early twenty-first century.