Nissan Seminar: Are We Allowed to Find Beauty in the Face of Death and Destruction: Ishiuchi Miyako’s Hiroshima and Postwar Japan”

Convener(s): Professor Takehiko Kariya and Dr. Natalia Doan

Speaker(s): Professor Yoshikuni Igarashi, Professor of History at Vanderbilt University and Visiting Research Scholar at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken)

These seminars will occur live and will not be recorded. Unauthorized recording is strictly prohibited.

Please click on the seminar title to register in advance and receive the meeting details.

Are We Allowed to Find Beauty in the Face of Death and Destruction: Ishiuchi Miyako’s Hiroshima and Postwar Japan


Photographer Ishiuchi Miyako (b. 1947) began photographing cloths and artifacts left by Hiroshima’s nuclear bomb victims and survivors in 2007. Published as three separate volumes and exhibited at numerous venues both inside and outside Japan, her Hiroshima photos have powerfully represented the absent presence of bodies that used to wear and touch these objects garnering critical acclaim from art critiques. Their bright colors and high aesthetic quality separate her works from other preceding photographic—often monochromatic—representations of life after the nuclear attack in Hiroshima. If there was an unspoken rule as to how Hiroshima had to be represented—the focus must be on the pain and suffering of Hiroshima citizens—Ishiuchi seems to have easily leapt over it and discovered the beauty of life in the midst of death and destruction. However, while the objects may gain new life, their owners recede in the background in her work: Their diverse experiences are reduced into an abstract image of Hiroshima victims. The viewers find hardly any background information about the persons who suffered such a disastrous fate. In this presentation, I trace her career trajectory that led her to Hiroshima and critically read Ishiuchi’s photography against the reality of contemporary Japan, where the number of war survivors are quickly dwindling. My talk also explores the ways in which her evocative images force us to think more expansively about war memory.

Speaker Bio:

Yoshikuni Igarashi is a specialist in modern Japanese cultural studies. He is the author of Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970 (Princeton University Press, 2000), Homecomings: The Belated Return of Japan’s Lost Soldiers (Columbia University Press, 2016), and Japan circa 1972: Masculinity in the Age of Mass Consumption and Metavisuality (Columbia University Press, 2020).