Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Calamity's Witness

It is precisely for this reason that we must turn to the testimony, both written and pictorial, of Ishikawa Kōyō.

As one of the only official photographers on the ground—and one of the few to leave an account of a pursuit towards, rather than away from, the flames—his diary offers a rare account of the civilian experience and corporeal consequences of the firebombing. Insofar as his perspective also reveals local patterns of movement, the structures of the built environment, and the spatiality of suffering, it brings to the fore numerous features of the social geography of bombardment. It reveals, in often grisly detail, the response to incendiary attack at the nested scales of city, district, neighborhood, family, and body.

As for most Tokyoites, Ishikawa’s experience of the raid began with a radio alert. Although he could initially only wonder to himself “Where would the enemy attack?” Ishikawa knew better than most that the conditions were ripe for catastrophe. Given that “fierce winds” had kicked up earlier that day, he recorded in his journal, “fires would immediately break out and the ensuing firestorms would bring death and devastation in their wake.”

As even a cursory examination of his account makes clear, American bombers were faithful to their instructions to rain ruin upon the Shitamachi district. Indeed, when Ishikawa “gazed at the large map of the Metropolitan district on the wall” and discovered “countless red and blue lamps were lit, showing that incendiary bombs were already falling in Honjo, Fukagawa, Edogawa, and Asakusa wards,” his gaze was fixed to the regions that had most engrossed American war planners.

For more on Ishikawa's photographs, continue on this pathway. For more on the life and legacy of Ishikawa, continue here.

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