The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 32. 2012   

August 6, 2012   
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As we reflect on August 6 on the meaning of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many in Japan are linking the issues of the atomic bomb and nuclear power as never before, indeed, in the strongest nationwide popular movement in half a century. We offer two perspectives on this.
Martin Dusinberre provides a fine-grained historical analysis of the debate over nuclear power in Kyushu's Kaminoseki. Rebecca Jennison presents the artistic response to 3.11 in a powerful series of paintings by the extraordinary artist Tomiyama Taeko.

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Martin Dusinberre, DIMBY: Kaminoseki and the making/breaking of modern Japan

There were, in the eyes of some observers, not one but two crises in Japan in the spring of 2011. First came the horrifying sequence of events triggered by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in the northeast, including the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plants and the loss of lives, livelihoods, hope and history.

And then, hundreds of kilometres away, in the Inland Sea port of Kaminoseki, southeast Yamaguchi prefecture, there was a somewhat more existential crisis. 'The reality,' opined one town councillor in April 2011-having evoked 'the crisis-like situation of our town [population then 3,550], in which problems of depopulation and aging persist'-'is that if we don't proceed with town-making policies, then the development of the municipality, and even its very existence, is at threat.' Two months later, in June, a Kaminoseki lobbyist similarly bemoaned the local situation and criticized central government indecision. 'If things go on like this,' he said, 'the town will sink.'

To be clear: next to nothing happened in Kaminoseki in the spring of 2011. There was no tsunami and no nuclear fallout from Fukushima, other than a brief scare over radioactive caesium in locally-sold beef later that summer. To visit the municipality two weeks after 3.11, as I did, was to ease oneself once again into the gentle rhythms of small-town life in a rural Japanese periphery.

But Kaminoseki is not any old small-town periphery. In the mid-1980s, its municipal council voted by a 16-1 majority to request the construction of a nuclear power plant in the town. This is the story of the community's protracted struggle over nuclear power and the fate of the community

Martin Dusinberre is Lecturer in modern Japanese history at Newcastle University, UK. In addition to his book, Hard Times in the Hometown: A History of Community Survival in Modern Japan, he has published articles in The Journal of Asian Studies (on nuclear power and civil society, co-authored with Daniel P. Aldrich) and Japan Forum (on the prewar Japanese diaspora), and he has a chapter on historical memory in Christopher Gerteis and Timothy S. George (eds), Japan since 1945: From Postwar to Post-Bubble (forthcoming). He was a visiting professor at Heidelberg University in 2011-12, and he will be an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellow in Heidelberg until summer 2014. He is starting work on a global history of Japan in the late-nineteenth century.


Recommended Citation: Martin Dusinberre, "DIMBY: Kaminoseki and the making/breaking of modern Japan," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10, Issue 32, No. 1, August 6, 2012.



Rebecca Jennison, "Revelations from the Sea": An Artist's Response to the Disasters of March 11th, 2011

Japanese artist Tomiyama Taeko (b. 1921) has devoted her life to creating works of art that explore contested histories of war and colonialism in East Asia. For several decades she has collaborated with musician and composer Takahashi Yuji to produce powerful audio-visual slide and dvd works that illuminate little-told stories of the past; the two artists see themselves as modern day "tabigeinin" (wandering minstrels) who like poets and painters of medieval times, speak through their art to the times.

Given Tomiyama's passionate commitment to art as a vehicle for the expression of poetic vision, memory and social responsibility, it is not surprising that she set to work on a new series of paintings almost immediately after the triple disasters (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power meltdown) struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.  Nor is it surprising that the sea should be the stage for her "Revelations" of, and reflections on, these disasters. In earlier works such as Memories of the Sea (1986) and Hiruko and the Puppeteers: A Tale of Sea Wanderers (2000-2009), the artist used images of a shaman's undersea journey to the South Seas and those of a puppet troupe traveling across Central and Southeast Asia, and then along sea routes to Taiwan and to her native Awaji Island in western Japan. Through these works, the artist asks viewers to remember histories of war and natural disaster, linking them to our own turbulent times. In the paintings and collages that comprise the Hiruko series, for example, we glimpse burning towers on the sea floor reminiscent of 9.11, and puppets swept away in a swirling tsunami.

Rebecca Jennison teaches in the Humanities Department at Kyoto Seika University. With Laura Hein, she co-edited Imagination without Borders: Feminist Artist Tomiyama Taeko and Social Responsibility (Center for Japan Studies, University of Michigan, 2010) and "Reconciliation and Remembrance in the Art of Tomiyama Taeko," in Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 2012.


Recommended Citation: Rebecca Jennison, "'Revelations from the Sea': An Artist's Response to the Disasters of March 11th, 2011," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 10, Issue 32, No. 2, August 6, 2012.

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