Ten years ago, on March 11th 2011, the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900, took place off the coast of Japan. The epicentre of the magnitude 9.0–9.1 megathrust ‘quake lay some 72 kilometres east of the Oshika Peninsula of Honshu, at a depth of around 32 km below the surface of the ocean. It caused an upthrust of between 6 to 8 metres that gave rise to a massively powerful tsunami.
The wave front of this tsunami struck the northern islands of Japan at speeds of up to 700 km/h and a maximum wave height of 39 metres (Omoe peninsula, Miyako City). It travelled inland up to 10 km, creating widespread devastation and caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accidents. As of 2019, the death toll as a direct result of the tsunami was put at 15,899, most killed as a result of drowning. A further 6,157 were injured and 2,529 remain missing.
In the aftermath, national and international relief efforts were launched, and people around the world sought to help those affected by the disaster through a wide variety of fund-raising efforts. In Second Life, Curator, who was still relatively new to the platform at the time, put together a special art exhibition with funds going to a number of charities dedicated to recovery efforts.
Entitled One Year After, the exhibition featured the paintings of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and Katsushika Hokusai, two of Japan’s foremost exponents of the ukiyo-e genre of woodblock printing and painting. Yoshitoshi’s career spanned the end of the Edo period of Japan and the rise of modern Japan following the Meiji Restoration, and he was the last great master of ukiyo-e. In particular, the exhibition featured his major series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. Hokusai preceded Yoshitoshi (their lives overlapping by just ten years), and he was largely responsible for transforming ukiyo-e as an art form, with his greatest work being 36 Views of Mt. Fuji.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and its tsunami, Curator once again offers one Year After for people to appreciate. Hosted at the gallery space above Bagheera Kristan’s Bohemian Underground store, it also has the alternate title of (now) Ten Years After to mark the tenth anniversary of the tsunami. And if you’ve never encountered either Yoshitoshi’s or Hokusai’s work before, I highly recommend paying a visit.
Ukiyo-e first rose to prominent in the late 1670s and continued to flourish through until the Meiji Restoration saw it enter a sharp decline in the rush towards modernisation. As an art form, it initially focused on portraiture featuring courtesans, geishas and kabuki actors. However, Hokusai, however, broadens the genre to include landscapes, plants, and animals, a broader expressionism Yoshitoshi would embrace.
There is particular relevance in using Yoshitoshi’s One Hundred Aspects of the Moon to commemorate the tsunami. While he was fascinated by all that was happening as a result of Japan opening its doors to the rest of the world, Yoshitoshi became concerned with the loss of many aspects of traditional Japanese culture, so much so that towards the end of his life he turned more towards Ukiyo-e, using it as a means to comment on the passing of Japan’s traditional ways in its headlong rush to modernise.
Thus, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon as presented here provides a poignant means of commemorating both the washing away of translational Japanese ways in the tide of change witnessed by Yoshitoshi, and the loss of life caused by the tsunami.
Each image in One Hundred Aspects depicts figures from Japanese and Chinese legend, history, literature, folklore and theatre captured at a moment in time, often in a poetic dialogue with the Moon. The presence of the Moon additionally references the role it played in the pre-industrialised Japanese calendar, when specific events on both a national and personal level being marked by the lunar phases. In this, the choice of this collection for the exhibition adds a further layer of meaning, marking as it does an event and point in time that affected some many lives and a nation as a whole.
Similarly, Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mt. Fuji has a certain poignancy in the context of commemorating the tsunami. It’s a series in which several of the images embody Japan’s long relationship with the seas around it – the most famous being The Great Wave off Kanagawa, depicting a large rogue wave about to overwhelm three boats. They also, as the title of the collection suggests, feature images feature Mount Fiji – the enduring symbol of the nation, the people and the spirit of Japan throughout the ages.
Although some of the pieces are slightly blurred as a result of the reproduction process, these are genuinely engaging copies of an evocative series. Each piece has a a richness of narrative to it and a deep sense of history, and those that you find attractive enough can be purchased for L$100 each.
- One Year After / (now) Ten Years After (Bohemian Underground, Wolchulsan, rated Moderate)