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Reviewed by:
  • Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster ed. by Barbara Geilhorn and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt
  • Barbara Holthus (bio)
Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster. Edited by Barbara Geilhorn and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt. Routledge, London, 2017. xv, 229 pages. $145.00, cloth; $54.95, E-book.

This edited volume, Fukushima and the Arts, was published six years after the March 11, 2011, triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami, and the subsequent meltdown of the reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The editors, theater scholar Barbara Geilhorn and Japanese literature professor Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt, originate from Germany, the country that reacted most strongly to the nuclear disaster by quickly passing a law to phase out its own nuclear power program by the year 2022—in contrast to Japan, where the government remains committed to nuclear power.

To date, academic scholarship on the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear catastrophe, and their many effects—identified collectively as "Fukushima"—has grown to an impressive volume. Works in the natural sciences, mostly dealing with engineering and environmental issues, seem to make up the majority of publications these days, but there is further discourse in public health, psychology, and psychiatry, focusing on, for example, those displaced and issues of resilience. Social scientists from political science, sociology, and also gender studies have examined the surge (or the subsequent decline) of social movements and civil society in post-Fukushima Japan. Research in cultural studies is comparatively limited, and thus this edited volume on a multitude of different artists and art forms responding to Fukushima fills a void in the scholarship in English. Through its breadth of topics, genre, and art forms discussed as well as through the insights and depth of analysis in the chapters, the book is a significant contribution to the existing literature.

The book features an introduction by the editors, who express the hope that it will contribute to "the preservation of the memory of an inconvenient past" (p. xv). The cover image nicely symbolizes this, depicting a man and woman, dressed in protective gear underneath their funeral clothes, holding an urn, standing in a deserted town with an aging city slogan sign, "Nuclear power—energy for a bright future," above them. Rarely has an image captivated me more.

The artworks analyzed by the contributors are from very different genres: four chapters deal with works of literature, poetry, and manga; three are on theater directors and their plays; two are on film (both fictional and documentary); and individual chapters on music and photography. The authors [End Page 461] are scholars based in the United States, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The artists covered in the analyses throughout the book are, with only a couple of exceptions, Japanese. However, Fukushima's global impact on artists is given credit by the analysis of works by two Japanese writers living abroad, Tawada Yōko in Berlin and Sekiguchi Ryōko in Paris, as well as those of the American documentary filmmaker Ian Thomas Ash, who resides in Tokyo.

The introduction to the book is well written, offering a comprehensive overview of the facts, events, and larger-scale social and political discourses after the March 11, 2011, events. One can only wonder why several of the book's chapters repeat the same basic facts or sometimes, for example, state different numbers as to how many fatalities there were. More careful editing would have helped here. However, the introduction makes a persuasive argument that the nuclear disaster "exposed deep fault lines running through Japanese society" (p. 3) and that it can be regarded as "Japan's 9.11" (p. 3). The introduction explains the political remapping efforts in northern Japan, as well as the nature of the nuclear village, namely, the network of corruption between power companies, financial sector, bureaucracy, politicians, scientists, and mass media. In addition, the editors give a short literature review of previous approaches to the cultural dimension of "Fukushima."

Unfortunately, the 11 chapters in the volume are arranged in erratic fashion; subsections would have helped. Further, the book does not feature a conclusion by the editors. One would have liked to read their thoughts on how the different chapters tie together, for example, on...


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pp. 461-465
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