Imaging Destruction - from Hiroshima to Fukushima & Beyond


Unnatural Disaster analyses a wide range of images produced in Japan in the preceding 150 years which depict types of catastrophe, devastation, calamity, turmoil and consequent traumatization.

Over 12 chapters, the book excavates the subterranean interconnectedness of populist posterized sensationalism (e.g. manga, anime and movies), revered institutional mourning (e.g. museums, memorials and monuments), and contemporary interventionist actions (wartime propaganda, curated exhibitions and site-specific installations) – all of which fixate on iconic imagery like the Hiroshima blast and its after effects as a means of commenting on how the world becomes what it will despite one's views, positions and desires.

The subtitle Imaging Destruction - from Hiroshima to Fukushima & Beyond exploits two hot markers: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and the meltdown at the Fukushima Dainichi nuclear power plant in 3/11. The reference to those events is less concerned with the anti-nuclear fears and protests these markers attract, and more to the simplified framework which ties the two together. Socially-concerned views abound which ring warning bells for the repercussions of these events, but Unnatural Disaster considers how images are produced from a variety of perspectives and intentions to document, expose, critique, symbolize and be intoxicated with massive destruction.

Unnatural Disaster dives deep into the density of differentiation within Japanese images of destruction. The text uncovers how a consciousness of disaster – natural, unnatural, supernatural, hypernatural – operates within Japan so as to produce manifold images which at once connect to Hiroshima's ground zero event, and transform or transcend its finality to produce images relatable to lived sensibilities. In a contemporary climate where political statement is assumed to be a prime directive in both making art and interpreting it, Unnatural Disaster highlights how acts of imaging destruction can provide rewarding lessons in polyphonic expression and post-human intersectionality.

Words: 120,000
Format: text with images
12 chapters @ 10,000 words
Plus bibliography, filmography, artwork inventory, museum sites & locations
Categories: disaster, trauma, Japan, nuclear, art, anime, cinema, museography, landscape


The book provides original perspectives and information, perceivable in four distinct areas. Firstly, the ideas expressed arise from being directly confronted by acts of imaging on site and in their originating situation across Japan over the last decade and over 20 stays in Japan. Living in Tokyo for 3 months only 3 weeks after the traumatizing trifecta of 3/11 (earthquake, tsunami, meltdown), my established interest in how Japanese art and culture had explored images of destruction was intensified. A second revelatory wave occurred in Japan's near-mute commemoration in 2015 of the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. That year witnessed a slew of remarkable airings of cultural imagery which previously had been suppressed, denied, limited or avoided.

Secondly, Unnatural Disaster covers major and even monumental productions, constructions and sites which have received scant attention outside of Japan. All were topical events occurring in either populist, mainstream or traditionalist channels of Japanese culture, yet their traction and translatability beyond its shores has proved difficult to contextualize and foster. Their seemingly obscure and unfathomable themes stretch wildly across cultural hierarchies, making the book rich and varied.

Thirdly, Unnatural Disaster dances dangerously close to the border of exoticism – strategically so. To counter the dominant anthropological approach of much Western-perspective writing on Japan, the book offers no manual for understanding 'the Japanese'. Instead, the focus is on the peculiar and the specific in Japanese artefacts. The tack is to start with the aura and materiality of an act of imaging, and move outward from its gravitational pull, so as to effect a 'ground-up' perspective in order to follow an image's trajectory regardless of any desired explication of 'Japaneseness'.

Fourthly, in line with this project's experimental alternative to anthropological determinism, Unnatural Disaster invites readers to entertain multiple conflicting political perspectives in order to gain from exposure to the book's dissertations. Reversed revisionism, counter textuality and political dissolution are deployed to analyse perplexing subjects typical of Japan's unique formulations of Modernism, plasticity, spirituality and identity.

In the intervening years since 3/11, acts of imaging dedicated to celebrating and iconicising military might have collided and merged with imagery which on the one hand documents the visually disorienting melted landscapes of tsunami-ravaged townships, and on the other hand, the ongoing invisibility of forensic image analysis deep inside the melted pools of the TEPCO nuclear reactor. Unnatural Disaster is born in the midst of this greater 'image meltdown' where natural and unnatural disasters cancel each other to produce a hybrid requiring new responses to their signification. In considering how acts of imaging frame disaster in Japan, Unnatural Disaster is neither anti-nuclear nor pro-nuclear. It is simply – and complexly – nuclear.


I - Visualized Trauma

  • Cluster A

    Imagining the unseeable in Hiroshima

    Site: Maruki Gallery, Takasaka
    1.1 Hiroshima bombing (1945) [eye witness reportage]
    1.2 The Hiroshima Panels (1950-1982) Toshi & Uri Maruki
    1.3a Barefoot Gen (1973-74) Keiji Nakazawa manga
    1.3b Ken (1964) d. Kenji Misumi

  • Cluster B

    Defining post-atomic photography

    Site: Miyuki Bridge, Hiroshima
    2.1 Hiroshima bombing (1945) [burnt shadows + photography]
    2.2 photo of survivors on Miyuki Bridge (1945) Yoshito Matsuhige
    2.3 Beneath The Mushroom Cloud (2015) NHK virtual photo documentary

II - Frozen Events

  • Cluster A

    Rupturing time and space in Hiroshima

    Site: Hiroshima Peace Museum, Hiroshima
    3.1 Hiroshima bombing (1945) [time/space distortion]
    3.2 clothes; water/food containers; walls/rebars; clocks
    3.3a Light Bulb II (1958) Jasper Johns
    3.3b Solid State (1965) Ed Kienholz
    3.3c You’re In (1967) Andy Warhol
    3.3d Ice Bag (1969) Claus Oldenburg
    3.4 hypocentre diorama
    3.5a Atom Piece (1965) Henry Moore
    3.5b God’s Wind? (1970) Robert Lipton
    3.5c Tenshin (1970) Seimei Tsuji

  • Cluster B

    Remaking the world for the Tokyo Olympics

    Sites: National Olympic Centre, Shinjuku, Tokyo + Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Tokyo
    4.1 Games Of the XVIII Olympiad (1964)
    4.2a Tokyo Olympiad (1965) d. Kon Ichikawa
    4.2b Akira (1983) Otomo Katsuhiro manga
    4.3a Akira (1988) Otomo Katsuhiro anime
    4.3b Love Japan (2014) closing concerts (Perfume performance)
    4.4a New Olympic Stadium (proposed & rejected)
    4.4b Akira mural (2017) Parco Shibuya redevelopment

III - Scarred Scenery

  • Cluster A

    Plastication and radiation post-Bikini Atoll

    Site: Toho Studio, Setagaya, Tokyo
    5.1 Toho special effects diorama pool
    5.2 Godzilla (1954) d. Ishiro Honda
    5.3a Tokyo WWII firebombing
    5.3b Tokyo bay oil refinery
    5.4 Shin Godzilla (2016) d. Hideaki Anno + Shinji Higuchi

  • Cluster B

    Death ash and the winds of global guilt

    Site: Lucky Dragon Five Exhibition Hall, Kibashi, Tokyo
    6.1a Lucky Dragon 5 radiation (1954)
    6.1b Bikini Atoll & New Mexico nuclear bomb tests (1954)
    6.2a Lucky Dragon 5 boat
    6.2b Death ash
    6.3a Myth Of Tomorrow (1969) Taro Okamoto
    6.3b LEVEL 7 (2011) ChimPom
    6.4 Study For An End Of The World No.2 (1962) Jean Tinguely
    6.5a Luck Dragon No.5 (1959) Kaneto Shindo
    6.5b Harpers Magazine (1958) Ben Shahn
    6.5c The Incredible Shrinking Man (1958) d. Jack Arnold
    6.5d The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961) d. Coleman Francis

IV - Artificial Environments

  • Cluster A

    The destructive triumph of tokusatsu special effects

    Site: Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiba, Tokyo
    7.1 Tokusatsu Special Effects Museum (2012) exhibition
    7.2a tokusatsu models
    7.2b interactive dioramas
    7.3 The God Warrior Descends On Tokyo (2012) d. Shinji Higuchi

  • Cluster B

    Endless war and endless space in manga/anime

    Sites: Mori Arts Center, Roppongi, Tokyo + Ueno Royal Museum, Ueno, Tokyo
    8.1a US Osprey landing (2015)
    8.1b Japanese Constitution Article 9 (1945)
    8.2a The Art of Gundam (2015) exhibition
    8.2b Gundam (1979) d. Yoshiyuki Tomino
    8.3 Kunio Okawara – Mecha Designer (2015) exhibition
    8.4 Gundam Seed (2002/3) d. Mitsuo Fukada

V - Recorded War

  • Cluster A

    Deadly ambiguity in 'Record of War Paintings'

    Site: National Museum of Modern Art, Chiyoda, Tokyo
    9.1a Royal Ueno Museum collection (1945)
    9.1b What Are You Fighting For? (2015) exhibition
    9.2 Record Of War paintings (1937-1945)
    9.3a Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)
    9.3b Pacific War (1941-1945)
    9.4a Shigeru Komatsuzaki (2015) exhibition
    9.4b Takani Artworks – Unmatched Steel Machinery Illustrations (2014) exhibition
    9.4c Aida Makoto: Monument For Nothing (2012) exhibition

  • Cluster B

    Rewriting war and re-imaging war

    Sites:Yushukan Military War Museum, Chiyoda, Tokyo + Chiran Peace Museum, Kagoshima Island
    10.1a dioramas
    10.1b models
    10.2a bombs
    10.2b Zero planes
    10.3a Kamikaze flights (1944-1945)
    10.3b US war footage of kamikaze bombings (1944-45)
    10.4 Eternal Zero (2013) d. Takashi Yamazaki
    10.5a The Wind Rises (2013) Hayao Miyazaki
    10.5b Angel Of History (1989) Anselm Kiefer
    10.5c Gods of the Torpedo (1944) Kawabata Ryushi
    10.5d Kantai Collection (2013) online card game

VI - Silent Objects

  • Cluster A

    Fragrance and invisibility as acts of knowing

    Sites: Tokyo University of the Arts Museum, Ueno, Tokyo + Bridgestone Museum of Art, Ginza, Tokyo
    11.1 wood washed to Japan from India (12th C)
    11.2 Fragrance – The Aroma of Masterpieces (2011) exhibition
    11.3 3/11 tsunami (2011) [invisibility]
    11.4a Art Informel (1940-1960)
    11.4b Nihonga (1900-1970)

  • Cluster B

    Tracking artefacts and tracing journeys in 3/11

    Site: Takahashi Shrine, Okuki village, Gunma
    12.1 3/11 tsunami (2011) [time/space distortion]
    12.2a destroyed shrine gate in Oregon (2012)
    12.2b restored gate in Okuki village
    12.3a Japan Meteorological Agency wave analysis
    12.3b NHK water visualization documentaries (2012-18)
    12.4a The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (1829-32) Katsuhika Hokusai
    12.4b Give Me Your Wings Think Differently (2012) Mr.

VII - Encoded Disaster

  • Cluster A

    Calligraphic death and 'Divine Retribution'

    Site: Edo Tokyo Museum, Sumida, Tokyo
    13.1a Buddhist hell
    13.1b 3/11 tsunami (2011) [eye witness reportage]
    13.2 500 Arhats (2011) exhibition
    13.3 500 Arhats (1863) Kano Kazunobu
    13.4a sumi-e calligraphy
    13.4b divine retribution
    13.4c 1000 Arhats (2015) Takashi Murakami

  • Cluster B

    Seismic recording of natural disasters

    Sites: Kanto Earthquake Memorial Museum, Sumida, Tokyo + Showa Museum, Chiyoda, Tokyo + Nojima Fault Preservation Museum, Awaji Islandƒ
    14.1a Kanto Earthquake Memorial permanent display
    14.1b Showa Museum permanent display
    14.2a Kanto Earthquake (1925)
    14.2b Tokyo fire bombing (1944)
    14.3 bikes, clocks, walls, roofs
    14.4 earthquake-proof building design (NEID)

VIII - Floating Worlds

  • Cluster A

    Mass in motion during the 3/11 tsunami

    Site: Rias Ark Museum of Art, Kesennuma
    15.1 3/11 tsunami (2011) [mass in motion]
    15.2a Waterscapes (2003) Asako Narahashi
    15.2b Foretoken (2008) Manabu Ikeda
    15.2c Princess Mononoke (1997) d. Hayao Miyazaki
    15.3 Records of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake & the History of Tsunami
    (2012) exhibition
    15.4a clothes; water/food containers
    15.4b walls/rebars
    15.5 Tree (2010) Ai Wei Wei

  • Cluster B

    Mass in stasis after the 3/11 tsunami

    Sites: Rikuzentakata City, Iwate + Arahama Elementary School Ruins + Okawara Elementary School
    16.1 3/11 tsunami (2011) [mass in stasis]
    16.2 Ippon Matsu memorial
    16.3a real tree
    16.3b artificial tree
    16.3c reconstructed highways
    16.4a 7,000 Oaks (1982) Joseph Beuys
    16.4b Spiral Jetty (1970) Robert Smithson
    16.4c Valley Curtain (1972) Christo
    16.5a the lone pine tree as national symbol of recovery
    16.5b Portrait Of Cultivation (2009) Leiko Shiga
    16.5c Terraformars (2011/2014/2016)

IX - Displaced Land

  • Cluster A

    Negating earth in Fukushima

    Sites: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant + TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center, Futaba City, Fukushima
    17.1 TEPCO reactor meltdown [negation]
    17.2 original nuclear energy sign (1999)
    17.3 removed nuclear energy sign (2012)
    17.4a PAVILION/Paving The Street (2012/2017) ChimPom
    17.4b Phase – Mother Earth (1968) Nobuo Sekine
    17.5a black bags of radiated topsoil
    17.5b containers of contaminated water

  • Cluster B

    Existence redefined in 'No-Go Zones'

    Site: Namie City, Fukushima
    18.1 TEPCO reactor meltdown [evacuation]
    18.2a emptied environments
    18.2b occupied zones
    18.3 Don’t Follow The Wind (2015) exhibition
    18.4a Tome-ishii Boundary (2015) Aiko Miyanagi
    18.4b Home (2015) Meiro Koizumi
    18.4c Time Travellers (2015) Kota Takeuchi
    18.5a Ray of Hope (2015) Ai Wei Wei
    18.5b Straight (2013) Ai Wei Wei

X - Invisible People

  • Cluster A

    The active erasure of people in Fukushima

    Sites: Tokyo Metropolitan Photography Museum, Meguro, Tokyo + Nerima Art Museum, Nerima, Tokyo
    19.1a Ellipse (1968) Ikeda Tetsuo
    19.1b Coacervation (1962-3) Naito Masatoshi
    19.2a Kazuo Oga (2007) exhibition
    19.2b Princess Mononoke (1996) d. Hayao Miyazaki
    19.3 evacuated towns of Fukushima
    19.4 robot cameras
    19.5 Phone Of The Wind (2011) Otsuchi, Iwate

  • Cluster B

    The symbolic erasure of people in Nihonga

    Sites: Yamatane Museum of Art, Hirou, Tokyo + National Art Centre, Roppongi, Tokyo + National WWII War Museum, New Orleans + National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York
    20.1a Red Sails In The Sunset (1984) Tsunehisa Kimura
    20.1b Various (2009-2010) Tokyo Genso
    20.1c Revelation/Indication/Scope series (2004-10) Hisaharu Motoda
    20.2 Blame (1998) Tsutomu Nihei manga
    20.3a Temple of Atomic Catastrophes (proposed 1954) - Seichi Shirai
    20.3b Oshima Project (proposed 1965-7) - Yozizaka Takamasa & Atelier U
    20.4a Winter Landscape With Church (1811) Caspar David Friedrich
    20.4b Kawai Gyokudo – Seasons, People, Nature (2017) exhibition
    20.4c Kaii Higashiyama Retrospective 1908-1999 (2018) exhibition
    20.5a The Road To Tokyo (2015) exhibition
    20.5b World Trade Center foundations, National September 11 Museum
    20.5c Pools, National September 11 Memorial

XI - Designed Worlds

  • Cluster A

    Reality as inhabitable dioramas for puppets

    Site: Dejima museum, Nagasaki
    21.1a Destroy All Monsters (1968) d. Ishiro Honda
    21.1b Dejima City, Nagasaki
    21.1c Odaiba City, Tokyo
    21.2a Thunderbirds (1965-6) d. Gerry & Silvia Anderson
    21.2b Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-6) d. Hideaki Anno
    21.3a From Architecture to Urbanism (2018) exhibition
    21.3b Taro Okamoto X Tange Kenzo (2018) exhibition
    21.4a Osaka World Pavilion (1970)
    21.4b Borderless (2018) teamLab

  • Cluster B

    Rebuilding, reconstruction and reincarnation

    Site: Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum, Takarazuka
    22.1a Ise Shrine reconstruction (2013)
    22.1b Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo
    22.2a Tokyo Disneyland
    22.2b Bio Hazard (1996) Shinji Mikami
    22.3a Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum
    22.3b Robot Town Sagami 2028 (2014)
    22.4 Astro Boy (1951-66) Osamu Tezuka manga

XII - Electric Centres

  • Cluster A

    Consuming energy through being alive

    Site: TEPCO Electric Energy Museum, Shibuya, Tokyo
    23.1a Akihabara Electric Town
    23.1b Pachinko parlours
    23.1c drink vending machines
    23.2a Ultraman (1966) cr. Eiji Tsuburaya
    23.2b Big Man Japan (2007) d. Hitoshi Matsumoto
    23.3a Giant Robo (1992-98) d. Yasuhiro Imagawa
    23.3b Electric Dragon 80,000 Volts (2005) Sogo Ishii
    23.3c Untitled (Chandelier) series (2009) Yuichi Higashionna
    23.4a TEPCO NPR2 reactor meltdown (2011)
    23.4b Misato City lights out (2011)
    23.5a Nuclear reactor diorama
    23.5b Konjikidou, Chuuson-ji Temple
    23.5c Baccarat Eternal Lights, Ebisu Garden Place (2015)

  • Cluster B

    Becoming energy and becoming nothing

    Site: 3/11 evacuation centres, Tohoku
    24.1a Tokyo city blackout (2011)
    24.1b subway station monitors showing daily electricity usage (2011)
    24.2 Tokyo traffic control centre
    24.3 Kurobe dam
    24.4a The Sands of Kurobe (1968) d. Kei Kumai
    24.4b Datamatics (2014) Ryoji Ikeda
    24.5a 3/11 tsunami (2011) [displacement]
    24.5b 3/11 memorial siren & silence