The aftermath of the firebombing of Tokyo.
What emerges from Ishikawa’s photographs is a profound sense of placelessness. As countless other testimonies would attest, survivors found themselves not just homeless but displaced, disoriented, uprooted. If, as Yi Fu Tuan has suggested, place is a “location created by human experiences,” then the places of the Shitamachi had been thoroughly annihilated. Nowhere to be found were the built structures and material reminders of everyday experience (Tuan 1979). Gone were the parks, schools, temples, markets, and homes that anchored individuals to their community. If not for the few standing buildings and smokestacks, many would not have been able to return to their former neighborhoods to search for loved ones. You might say that place was annihilated in the American war room well before it was actually destroyed on the ground. By envisioning urban Japan as singularly military and industrial in composition, war planners denied these social markers a place within Japan’s urban life.
Yet such displacement was not to last forever. While hundreds of thousands had little choice but to seek out refuge with distant relatives, countless others returned to rebuild their lives upon Shitamachi’s lunar landscape. If this underscores the resilience of the human spirit, it also conveys the transcendence and magnetism of place. The homes, neighborhoods, and communities of the low city could and would rise once more, just as they had throughout Tokyo’s long history of conflagration.