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Imaging Disaster

Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923

Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Imaging Disaster
    Book Description:

    Focusing on one landmark catastrophic event in the history of an emerging modern nation—the Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo and surrounding areas in 1923—this fascinating volume examines the history of the visual production of the disaster. The Kanto earthquake triggered cultural responses that ran the gamut from voyeuristic and macabre thrill to the romantic sublime, media spectacle to sacred space, mournful commemoration to emancipatory euphoria, and national solidarity to racist vigilantism and sociopolitical critique. Looking at photography, cinema, painting, postcards, sketching, urban planning, and even scientific visualizations, Weisenfeld demonstrates how visual culture has powerfully mediated the evolving historical understanding of this major national disaster, ultimately enfolding mourning and memory into modernization.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95424-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xv)
    (pp. 1-11)

    The Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Sichuan and Haiti earthquakes—the experience of disaster is both universal and particular. Most of us understand these horrific events through a complex matrix of media, most of them visual, that attempt to record and ascribe meaning to destruction, chaos, and tragedy. Images mediate our experiences. How the visual functions in relation to disaster, however, requires close critical examination. The visual culture of disaster can produce an exploitative aesthetics of horror and spectacle that transforms viewers into unwitting voyeurs. At the same time, people can use images to reclaim disaster sites for social...

  6. 1 EARTHQUAKES IN JAPAN: A Brief Prehistory
    (pp. 13-33)

    As an archipelago created by the highly active tectonic zone where the Pacific and Philippine plates collide with the Eurasian plate, Japan is regularly rocked by volcanic eruptions, typhoons, earthquakes, and tsunamis. That has stimulated a particularly rich Japanese tradition—reaching all the way back to the beginning of its recorded history—of visual responses to calamitous events. One might even say that disaster has been a generative force in Japanese culture. It certainly has been a catalyst for change.

    Disaster, commonlysaigaiorsaikain Japanese, usually suggests tragedy, ruin, catastrophe, and calamity. It implies misfortune and adversity. But...

    (pp. 35-81)

    When the Ōsaka Mainichi Shinbunsha published its bilingual three-volume photographic pictorial of the Great Kantō Earthquake just two weeks after the event, the calamity had already been captured in thousands of images that circulated on a national and international media highway. Commercial photographers and photojournalists produced the most abundant and immediate images of the quake, which were transmitted in newspapers, special-issue newspaper pictorials, commemorative photography collections, illustrated survivors’ accounts, and sets of commemorative postcards. These photographic images functioned as both news and souvenirs, rendering their consumers/viewers, inside and outside the devastated locale, into both witnesses and voyeurs. Images in the...

    (pp. 83-127)

    A majestic crown of white billowing smoke rises above the dome of a Western-style building in the photographFire Seen in Okubo, 3 P.M.(fig. 3.1).¹ In this moment frozen in time; the spotlighted clouds have a deific presence as they loom ominously over the darkly shadowed buildings and ground below. The composition of the picture is perfectly balanced, with the arc of the plume mirroring the slope of the landscape. This magnificently horrible plume was captured throughout the visual media, immortalized in ink, oil, and graphite, and on celluloid. Such representations are a vivid reminder of the constructed nature...

    (pp. 129-159)

    The burned expanse, oryakenohara,that had been Tokyo became an enduring image of the earthquake experience that was seared into the minds of all who had survived. Like the solitary moon staring dejectedly down at the ruins (fig. 4.1), Japanese people felt compelled to gaze upon their surroundings to record the image for posterity. While this activity was undoubtedly a form of disaster tourism, it also served as a kind of psychological catharsis and nascent memory work. This function is particularly evident in the copious drawings people made of the charred remnants and rubble piles left in the quake’s...

  10. 5 Reclaiming Disaster: Altruism and Corrosion
    (pp. 161-213)

    The dominant public vision of the Great Kantō Earthquake was an affirmative image of collective suffering and sacrifice that downplayed divisiveness. Unity was the order of the day, and tenacity in the face of adversity would prove Japan’s moral backbone. The Kōdansha editors, in the preface toTaishō Daishinsai daikasai(The Great Taishō Earthquake and Conflagration), voiced the common message emphasizing the silver lining in the cloud of tragedy: “Painful suffering makes people great. Such an enormous disaster gives us profound and innumerable lessons. If we can properly report this experience to future generations all over the world, and if...

    (pp. 215-253)

    To the upbeat rhythms of a lively march, residents of the imperial capital hummed “The Reconstruction Song” (Fukkō bushi) as they began the process of recovery and rebuilding. The tune expressed their resilient spirit for reviving the capital, a process they had undertaken on many previous occasions, although never on such an enormous scale. There was a saying among merchants in Edo that if a business could not get up and running again within three days, it would not survive. Such was the rapidity of reconstruction. Some long, wooden single-story row houses in back alleys known asnagayaburned so...

    (pp. 255-293)

    With tens of thousands of people dead in the streets, mourning and memory could not wait for reconstruction. Remembrance was an intrinsic part of recovery from the Great Kantō Earthquake, intimately linked to the visual rhetoric reconstruction. It was also an evolving process. Close examination of this process, which culminated in the celebration the completion of Tokyo’s reconstruction in March 1930 and inauguration of the official earthquake memorial complex erected on the site of the Former Army Clothing Depot in Honjo, clearly reveals two inherent cultural tensions: one between sacred and historical remembrance, and the other between memorialization of the...

  13. 8 Epilogue: Afterlives
    (pp. 295-308)

    In the years since the Great Kantō Earthquake, Japan has continued to experience traumatic disasters—the ultimate being the man-made cataclysms of the Asia-Pacific War that reduced the nation’s capital and other major cities to ruins once again. Ruminating on the devastated landscape of fire-bombed Tokyo (fig. 8.1) and the postapocalyptic scenes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki flattened by atomic bombs, world-renowned architect Isozaki Arata remembers the profound psychological imprinting of the image of ruins (haikyo). Marked by the burned wasteland and evocative ruins of the devastated cityscape, spectacular plumes of smoke, charred human remains, and the wounded personal objects of...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 309-350)
    (pp. 351-368)
  16. List of Illustrations
    (pp. 369-376)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 377-394)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 395-396)