On 11 November 1855, a massive earthquake and tsunami destroyed most of Japan's capital city, Edo, the precursor of modern Tokyo. Roughly 7000 people were reported dead or injured, and the numbers rose in the days that followed. There were no newspapers published in the city—the shogun's government forbade public comment on anything directly concerning the regime—but by the end of the year hundreds of woodblock broadsheets had appeared with stories and interpretations of the disaster. Among the surviving broadsheets one type stands out: colour woodblock prints depicting the earthquake as a catfish.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Observations on the 19th c. Japanese response to natural disasters
One of the themes of this still-new blog is the revelatory potential of perspectives brought by history, other cultures, and other disciplines. Julian Sands' beautiful essay in this week's London Review of Books explores Japan's present-day reaction to March's triple disaster (earthquake-tsunami-nuclear reactor meltdown) through a 19th century Japanese lens. I was so struck by the inversion of our present-day values that I wanted to share it with you; excerpts are below but the whole can be found through the link above.