Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan's Devastating Earthquake, 1923

Nyosen Hamada, Chased by the Fire, Drowned in the Water

The clothing was different, and there were horses being tossed, instead of cars, but the horror was eerily identical. The fires, the death, the leveled landscape, the injured, the homeless. Over 100,000 people died in the Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the tsunami and fires that followed. So much of Tokyo was destroyed, that the government considered moving the capital elsewhere.

I really didn't think that an art form as stylized and classical as a Japanese print, could come close to matching the power of the camera for a disaster of this magnitude. How wrong I was. Take a look at the faces, the gestures, the postures. After seeing the recent footage from Japan, these prints take on a reality that chilling.

This remarkable work of visual journalism was published in 1926 as a suite of 25 prints by nine artists, many of whom lost much in the earthquake. Each scene conveys a different facet of the anguish, terror and despair suffered by so many. The images and information here are from the site of print dealer, Artelino, where there is lots more to read about these prints and Japanese prints in general.

Apparently a full set of "Taisho Shinsai Gashu" (Pictures of Taisho Earthquake)" is quite rare, and this is where the tiny glimmer of hope is to be found. Far outweighing these scenes of devastation is the abundance of prints that recorded the rebuilding of Tokyo as a modern metropolis.

Nyosen Hamada, Tragedy of Horses

Shiun Kondo, The Tsunami Attacks at Suji Kotsubo after the Earthquake

Shiun Kondo, The Train Wreck around Oiso

Hakuhan Yawata, Around Gofukubashi Bridge on this Night

Unpo Takashima, Around Ueno

Unpo Takashima, Honjo

Kouyou Shibata, Around Fukagawa

Shiun Kondo, Mansei Bridge
Martial law was declared by the government after the earthquake, while order and essential services were restored. This is a police station on Mansei bridge.

Senrin Kirigaya, Burnt Ruins of Ginza Street
Ginza Street was a fashionable shopping district.

Kougai Noguchi, Nakabashi Hirokoji District

Kougai Noguchi, Narihira Tram Street
With a flattened landscape in the distance, a man operates a commuter wagon where street cars used to run.

Sengai Igawa, Refuge at Asakusa Kannon
I wonder if the flyers attached to the tree are for missing loved ones?

I'm tacking on these two prints (not from the series), of the raging fires.
This scene is by Kitazawa Rakuten, who is considered the father of Japanese manga. (via Three Steps Over Japan)

Fire near Asakusa Park. Animals from a show are on the loose and a twelve story building is destroyed. (via Vangobot)

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