Ongoing 3.11 Disaster and Recovery and Japan’s Mediascape

June 22, 2015
By | Comments Off on Ongoing 3.11 Disaster and Recovery and Japan’s Mediascape


Post by Rayna Denison (University of East Anglia) and Hiroko Furukawa (Tohoku Gakuin University)

This post is part of a partnership with the International Journal of Cultural Studies, where authors of newly published articles extend their arguments here on Antenna. 

On the morning of March 12th 2011, we awoke in the UK to news of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that had swept across the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu the previous day. From there, the news worsened with an unfolding nuclear disaster, as the Fukushima nuclear power plant was revealed to be in meltdown, requiring the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from the surrounding area. Whole towns simply disappeared. Nearly 20,000 people are now known to be dead with thousands more missing, and hundreds of thousands of people have been left without homes. Amidst this devastation, our article asks how Japan’s fiction media producers responded to the mood and needs of audiences across the Japanese archipelago.

The 3.11 disaster, as it would come to be called, has been the fastest and perhaps most highly mediated disaster in Japan’s history, and the extensive news coverage has be paralleled by the attempts of media producers to just as rapidly tell stories about, and help with the healing process around, the earthquake and its aftermath. We therefore investigated the importance of Japan’s story media to audiences struggling to deal with the consequences of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 3.11.

himizu 1We have found an ongoing discourse about trauma, healing, and recovery in media ranging from manga to anime and film. Although this in itself may not surprise, the speed with which Japan’s media producers and creators have moved from issues of disaster to those debates around healing and recovery is remarkable. The disaster physically changed Japan’s media, causing everything from paper shortages to necessitating new, ad hoc cinema construction. It also shifted attention towards new media production, with popular manga including Weekly Shōnen Jump being made available online in new experimental ways. Beyond problems in production and distribution, the 3.11 disaster also highlighted the growing importance of social media in Japan, with popular Tohoku-region manga artists and filmmakers announcing their survival via Twitter and personal websites.

The story worlds of Japan’s media were also reshaped by the disaster. Broadcasters re-edited popular anime television shows to remove potentially upsetting content, while filmmakers like Sion Sono scrambled to re-design the content of their films to reflect the impact of the disaster on Japan’s mediascape. Sono was one of the first to include real footage of the tsunami-struck northern areas, making them part of the psychologically-scarred landscape of his film Himizu (2012). Likewise, media producers attempted to raise awareness and help with relief by synergistically combining popular releases with exhibition and performances in the affected region. For example, Japan’s biggest animation company, Studio Ghibli, did advance screenings of their film From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) within the disaster-stricken areas, and many pop stars put on free concerts to raise awareness and provide relief for those affected.

storiesSince those early moments, though, there have been increasing numbers of film documentaries attempting to reflect on the disaster, and there have been numerous manga that have also acted to document personal accounts of disaster and recovery. Some media producers, like those behind the multiple volumes of Stories from 311 are actively helping to raise funds for the relief effort, whereas other manga authors are providing “iyashi-kei” or healing-style accounts of the events. In these ways, Japan’s fiction-oriented media producers have inherited the work of the Japan’s news media, and are continuing to produce media with the aim of keeping the 3.11 disaster, and relief efforts associated with it, in consumers’ minds. A good example would be Ryoichi Kimizuka’s film Reunion (Itai: Asu e no Tōkakan, 2013), a populist film about the treatment of the dead in the wake of the tsunami, which was produced by powerful television executive Chihiro Kameyama. Based on news stories from the time, the film both recounts the disaster as memory, while emphasising the disaster’s ongoing significance within Japan’s national culture.

[For the full article, see Hiroko Furukawa and Rayna Denison, “‘Disaster and Relief: The 3.11 Tohoku and Fukushima Disasters and Japan’s Media Industries,” published in International Journal of Cultural Studies, March 2015, vol. 18 no. 2:]


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.