The assumption underpinning the photography of my two previous posts —namely, In Tokyo and In Japan’s Railway Stations — was my mode of being as an international tourist in a post-3.11 Japan. This is a Japan that had been shaken up by the Great East Japan earthquake and the tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident that was not supposed to happen. Nuclear technology was assumed to be perfectly safe and infallible. The triple regional disasters resulted in 16-20,000 deaths along the Pacific coast of the Tōhoku region of fishing ports, farms, communities and towns. Picturing the Invisible is an exhibition, which brings together artists working with photography and film in the affected territories, to examine the lingering legacies of 3.11.
The Japanese redevelopment strategy post WW2 war segregated energy production in the rural areas from consumption and development in the metropolitan areas. Nuclear risk was concentrated in aging and poor regions such as Tōhoku, and metropolises such as Tokyo were protected from a distance. The role of the Tōhoku region was to be the supplier of energy, labor force, industrial resources and food for the benefit of metropolises. It was by design that Fukushima bore the burden of the nuclear calamity whilst life in Tokyo for the most part continued as if nothing had happened. Today, the state has been trying to seal off Fukushima’s contaminated and unruly body while the local residents try to protect their community at the cost of their lives.
Being a tourist in Japan for us did not include dark tourism ie., visiting a radiated Fukushima and the depopulated surrounding areas with their ageing communities. Our only contact was briefly stopping at the railway station in Fukushima when we were on the Shinkansen. My understanding of the figure of the tourist in a postmodern city such as Tokyo is that it has an essential relationship to that of the flâneur in early European modernity (Paris).
The relationship is one of drifting through the city — Tokyo, Morioka, Sendai and Osaka — haphazardly strolling, taking in and photographing the appearance of the city through a chance gaze. I was drawn to things and people that I encountered by chance. The difference is that the figure of the tourist is emblematic of the consumption-based society of late capitalism with its intensive commodification of the tourist spaces.