Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Life and Legacy of Ishikawa Kōyō

Ishikawa Kōyō (given name, Takeo) was born in 1904 in Fukui Prefecture, the first son of Ishikawa Takejiro, a railway worker. Owing to his father's job, Ishikawa spent his childhood on the move, residing by turns in Fukui, Numazu, and Matsumoto. Following his father's death in 1925, Ishikawa joined the Imperial Army, and was soon dispatched for service in colonial Korea.

Ishikawa returned to Japan in 1927, moving to Tokyo to seek out work. There, on the recommendation of a close friend, he took up employment with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. More specifically, Ishikawa was hired as an official photographer for the Metro Police Force -- an opportunity that allowed him to simultaneously pursue his passion for photography (Ishikawa 1992).

With his cherished Leica DIII camera by his side, Ishikawa traveled across Tokyo to document many different facets of life in the capital: from window shopping in the Ginza to grade school activities in Asakusa. Given that most of his photographs captured everyday life in the 1930s, his body of work stands as an illuminating lens into how fascism and ultra-nationalism progressively set roots in Japanese society. Early photographs of cafes and school children window shopping eventually gave way to military parades and air raid drills.

The latter was good preparation for his wartime photographic duties, which increasingly entailed documenting the aftermath of air raids. Nothing, however, could have prepared him for the trauma and chaos of March 9-10, 1945.

Interestingly, Ishikawa decided in the closing weeks of the war to bury the photographic negatives of his Great Tokyo Air Raid photographs behind his home. When, however, SCAP Occupation authorities caught wind of the existence of his photographs, he was eventually compelled to exhume them from the earth and hand over copies, allowing US military authorities to better understand the ground level experience of the raid.

Ishikawa continued to work in the Metropolitan Police force until his retirement in 1963. He passed away in 1989 at the age of 85. His extraordinary life has garnered considerable posthumous public interest. In the late 1990s, as the Japanese public began to open up about the air raids after decades of silence, Ishikawa became the subject of two feature length NHK Documentaries (the poster for one of which is the framing image of this page), prompting an upsurge in public interest in his photographic legacy.

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