The Changing Character of Disaster Victimhood
Evidence from Japan's "Great Earthquakes"
Author: Gregory Clancey
Japan is periodically wracked by "Great Earthquakes" (daijishin) – seismic events so destructive that they leave massive amounts of textual and graphic evidence, much of it produced by people who didn't experience the events directly. Using this cache of information, it is possible to see how the idea of the "disaster victim" has changed over time and circumstance. My paper traces this role across from five Great Earthquakes that spanned roughly 150 years (1855-2011), a period convergent with "modern" Japan. I will argue that the sense of who and what has been victimized by the shaking of the earth – who has suffered, what weight to attach to their loss, what actions to take and emotions to feel regarding their situation – has changed regularly, and surprisingly, over this rather short period. There is, in other words, no common Japanese experience of victimhood, even in the context of one disaster type over a relatively short historical period. The article is one contribution to an as-yet unexamined history and comparative study of the modern role of disaster victim.