Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian HistoryMain MenuGet to Know the SiteGuided TourShow Me HowA click-by-click guide to using this siteModulesRead the seventeen spatial stories that make up Bodies and Structures 2.0Tag MapExplore conceptsComplete Grid VisualizationDiscover connectionsGeotagged MapFind materials by geographic locationLensesCreate your own visualizationsWhat We LearnedLearn how multivocal spatial history changed how we approach our researchAboutFind information about contributors and advisory board members, citing this site, image permissions and licensing, and site documentationTroubleshootingA guide to known issuesAcknowledgmentsThank youDavid Ambaras1337d6b66b25164b57abc529e56445d238145277Kate McDonald306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5fThis project was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Bridges spanning the Sumida River
12020-04-30T18:06:19-04:00Kate McDonald306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f353A map of the bridges spanning the Sumida Riverplain2020-10-02T03:12:17-04:00Wikimedia Commons.David FedmanDF-0015Kandra Polatis4decfc04157f6073c75cc53dcab9d25e87c02133
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12020-04-30T18:05:22-04:00Shitai-machi7Ishikawa's account of the night of the Great Tokyo Air Raid.plain2021-05-05T08:01:33-04:0035.67268, 139.78661Sumida River03/09/19451923David FedmanIshikawa, Kōyō
To trace Ishikawa’s movements on the night of the raid is to track the “endless stream” of Japanese civilians in reverse. While to Ishikawa the ensuing “congestion and confusion defy easy description,” one can discern from his account a number of key factors shaping the exit arteries from the flames. In this sense, we can discern how the exigencies of war and civil defense shaped, and were shaped by, historical patterns of movement. Longstanding sites of exchange, public transportation, and the structures that grew around them all figure into his account, offering a sense of how the historical growth of the capital shaped the possibilities and means of survival. Of particular importance in this respect were the bridges straddling the Sumida River: the roughly 25 escape routes offering passage to the relative safety of Western Tokyo.
Among the most fluid nodes of escape were the Asakusa, Kototoi, and Ryogoku Bridges: major thoroughfares that offered passage to neighborhoods well known to have been spared destruction following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. If this catastrophic precedent informed decisions made by Tokyoites as they desperately navigated the flames, it steered many astray. One of the great clusters of mass death were the grounds of the Sensoji Kannon Temple—an area sought out by many precisely because it had withstood, some thought preternaturally, the great conflagration that swept across the same part of Tokyo just twenty years prior.
That bridges were often the last best hope for survival bespeaks the critical role that the physical topography of Tokyo played in shaping the contours of the ruins. As natural firebreaks, these canals often shaped the actual contours of the ruins themselves. As sources of bodily relief and modes of transportation, they also often provided means of treatment and escape. Like many other accounts, Ishikawa draws attention to the fact that barges, boats, and floating material was often the last life-line afforded to survivors, who in great numbers threw themselves into these waterways as a last ditch survival strategy. Some were lucky to be pulled aboard; countless others were washed out to sea, making it that much more difficult to ascertain the casualties of the raid. Such references provide a potent reminded that, however built up the urban environment, it was still structured by the physical topography and terrain that lay at the foundation of the capital.