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Apocalyptic sublimes and the recalibration of distance: doing art-anthropology in post-disaster Japan.

Clarke, Jennifer


Jennifer Clarke


Philipp Schorch

Martin Saxer

Marlen Elders


On 11 March 2011, a ‘triple disaster’ (an earthquake – the strongest since records began – a subsequent tsunami, and a nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant) devastated the Tohoku region of north-east Japan. This singular yet predictable event has come to be called ‘3.11’, echoing the traumatic event of ‘9.11’. The disaster was predictable insofar as Japan, situated within the ‘ring of fire’ – an area approximately 40,000 km long in the basin of the Pacific Ocean, associated with frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – has long experienced ecological hazards. This earthquake and tsunami left 18,000 people dead and thousands more injured. Over 340,000 people were displaced from their homes, as hundreds of thousands of buildings were destroyed. As this is a coastal and rural region, many livelihoods connected to fishing and agricultural production were obliterated overnight. A hundred and ten thousand residents in communities in and around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were officially evacuated immediately, and many more ‘voluntarily’ evacuated (without support from the government) because of concerns about the dangerous levels of radiation – a result of a nuclear ‘meltdown’ and subsequent explosions at Fukushima. To this day, only about half of the evacuees have returned home, a problem for the government since plans for recovery are based on people returning to their towns. By March 2018, the national government had ended financial support for the majority of nuclear evacuees. While decontamination projects actively removed tons of topsoil and debris, cycles of rain and wind continue to carry radiation across the region and, with it, uncertainty.


CLARKE, J. 2020. Apocalyptic sublimes and the recalibration of distance: doing art-anthropology in post-disaster Japan. In Schorch, P., Saxer, M. and Elders, M. (eds.) Exploring materiality and connectivity in anthropology and beyond. London: UCL Press [online], pages 172-190. Available from:

Online Publication Date Mar 30, 2020
Publication Date Mar 30, 2020
Deposit Date May 7, 2020
Publicly Available Date May 7, 2020
Publisher UCL IOE Press
Pages 172-190
Book Title Exploring materiality and connectivity in anthropology and beyond
Chapter Number 11
ISBN 9781787357501; 9781787357495
Keywords Triple disaster: Japan; Eathquake; Tsunami; Nuclear accident; Art; Anthroplogy
Public URL


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