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Taking Refuge on the Streetcar Tracks from the series Pictures of the Taishō Earthquake

Igawa Sengai (1876-1961)
 

Japanese Color Woodblock Print

Taking Refuge on the Streetcar Tracks

from the series Pictures of the Taishō Earthquake

by Igawa Sengai, 1926

Igawa Sengai (1876-1961)


IHL Cat. #1405

About This Print

One of three prints (also see IHL Cat. #1406) contributed by the artist Igawa Sengai (1876-1961) to the series Pictures of Taishō Earthquake, issued in 1926 three years after the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake. This print pictures a family sitting on the streetcar tracks gazing at the city in ruins while fires smolder and refugees flee with their belongings.  They are well dressed and without the backdrop of devastation it would look like a picnic. Other families also took refuge along the rail lines in the days following the earthquake such as the family shown in the postcard below.


A family camps along the railroad tracks in the days after the quake

Refuge on the Tracks
Source: First-hand account of the Great Kanto earthquake by the American journalist Henry W. Kinney, appearing in the January 1924 issue of The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1924/01/earthquake-days/308431/

People took refuge on the tracks as they provided an area safe from falling debris.

Finally we were forced back to the refuge of the railway tracks. There they sat, the inhabitants, in groups, each family guarding the household goods which it had snatched up in flight. Futon, padded quilts, predominated, but all manner of other goods might be seen, even shoji, the latticed paper-covered doors and windows, and chests of drawers. The quietness was striking. There was no wailing; they conversed in low tones; but generally they sat silent, staring at the destruction. One admired their stoicism, the spirit which had made the shikataganai, ‘it can’t be helped’ phrase, almost the Japanese national motto. There was no confusion, no crying out; even the children were hushed. - Henry W. Kinney, American journalist


Viewing the Aftermath
Source: Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan's Great Earthquake of 1923, Gennifer Weisenfeld, University of California Press, 2012, p. 94.

The pleasure that viewers take in the spectacle of disaster is often predicated on their viewing position – there sense of safety and distance from physical harm.  But some took pleasure in spectatorship even while amid disasters, as represented in the strangely bucolic woodblock print by popular Miyako shinbu newspaper illustrator Igawa Sengai (1876-1961) Refuge on the Streetcar Tracks (Densha senrojō no hinan), in which a Japanese family picnics on top of the debilitated electric streetcar tracks as they gaze leisurely on the city in the midst of obliteration. The crowns of toppled buildings and smoldering fires are visible in the distance beyond the smoke, as the neatly dressed family of three – with the father casually reclining - prepare tea surrounded by fallen power lines.  Inhabitants of San Francisco were known to set up chairs at vantage points in the burning city to watch the encroaching conflagrations moving with the rhythm of the fires.  Similarly, Tokyo residents sat in cautious observation as they waited in the streets with their belongings and tried to assess the movement of the fires.  Supposedly safe positions, however, could become suddenly imperiled with the changing winds, and participant-spectators could easily become victims.  Such was the perilous adventure of disaster spectatorship.

For other prints of the Taishō Earthquake in this collection see Disastrous Scene in the Geisha Area of Yanagibashi from the series Pictures of the Taishō EarthquakeChased by Fire, Drowned by Water from the series Pictures of the Taishō EarthquakeEvacuees in the Suburbs of Tokyo from the Picture Album of the History of the Taishō Great EarthquakeYoshiwara Park: Army Foot Soldier Private Second Class Mr. Nakamura Fukusaburō from the Picture Album of the History of the Taishō Great Earthquake / Vol. 1Temporary Barracks from the series Collection of Woodblock Prints of the Taishō Earthquake.


About the Series "Pictures of the Taishō Earthquake"

This series consists of 25 prints by nine, mostly lesser-known, artists, a number of whom, including this print's creator, were students of the Nihonga artist Tomioka Eisen (1864-1905).  The nine artists are Shunhan Katayama (fl. c. 1901–1926); Yawata (Yahata?) Hakuhan (1893–1957); Nobuchi Kōgai (fl. c. 1920s); Igawa Sengai (1876-1961); Kirigaya (Kiriya) Senrin (1877–1932); Shibata Kōyō (fl c. 1920s); Hamada Josen (1875-?); Kondō Shiun (fl. c. 1923– 1930s) and Unpo Takashima (fl. c. 1920s). 

When this series was issued in 1926, Tokyo and its environs were already well-along in their rebuilding, which "started before the last embers were out"1 and was to be officially completed in 1930.  This series, along with an earlier 1924 series of 36 prints, Collection of Woodblock Prints of the Taishō Earthquake, served to, in the words of the pre-publication announcement for the 1924 series, convey "to future generations, in an artistic manner, the true import of these events."2 

All of the prints in this series and the bound book in which they were issued (see below), can be viewed on the website of Wolfsonian Florida International University's Digital Image Catalog where they formed part of their September 2011 commemorative exhibition of the tragedy of September 11, 2001, titled “Reflections on Loss and Commemoration.”  

https://digital.wolfsonian.org/WOLF054675/00001/thumbs?nt=-1
click on image to go to website of Wolfsonian Florida International University
Digital Image Catalog 
and see details of each thumbnail.


1 Tokyo Rising: The City Since The Great Kanto Earthquake, Edward Seidensticker, Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 8.
2 The Artist's Touch, The Craftsman's Hand: Three Centuries of Japanese Prints from the Portland Art Museum, Maribeth Graybill, Portland Art Museum, Oregon, 2011, p. 273.

The Great Kantō Earthquake

Source: The Artist's Touch, The Craftsman's Hand: Three Centuries of Japanese Prints from the Portland Art Museum, Maribeth Graybill, Portland Art Museum, Oregon, 2011, p. 273.

"The Great Kantō Earthquke of 1923 stands in memory as one of the most terrifying calamities in Japanese history.  Registering at a magnitude of 7.9, the quake struck on September 1, with its epicenter some 50 miles southwest of Tokyo, in Sagami Bay.  The hour was 11:58A.M., just when households everywhere were lighting small charcoal stoves to prepare lunch.  Fires broke out instantly in the densely populated cities of Tokyo and Yokohama and were spread by high winds.  Since the earthquake had broken the water lines, both cities were reduced to smoldering ruins within a few hours.... The earthquake and its aftermath caused well over 140,000 deaths and left nearly 700,000 people homeless."


Print Details

 IHL Catalog  #1405
 Title  Taking Refuge on the Streetcar Tracks 
 Taking Refuge on the Tracks [線路の避難 as written in the print's upper right margin]
 Taking Refuge on the Streetcar Tracks 電車線路上の避難 (Densha senrojō no hinan) as written in table of contents for series
 Series  Pictures of the Taisho Earthquake (Taishō shinsai gashū 大正震災画集)
 (also seen translated as Taishō Earthquake Disaster Print Collection)
 Artist 
 Igawa Sengai (1876-1961)
 Signature 

洗厓 Sengai

 Seal  洗厓 Sengai (see above)
 Publication Date  1926
 Publisher  Emaki Kenkyūkai 絵巻研究会 [エマキ ケンキュウカイ]
 Impression  good
 Colors  good
 Condition  good - overall toning; vertical centerfold; staining in right margin; wrinkling
 Genre  
 Miscellaneous
unread seal in lower left corner in margin.
 Format
 H x W Paper  8 5/8 x 11 3/8 in. (21.9 x 28.9 cm) 
 H x W Image  7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.7 x 24.8 cm)
 Collections This Print  The Wolfsonian FIU Library Collection (JAPA) 83.2.2324
 Reference Literature  Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan's Great Earthquake of 1923, Gennifer Weisenfeld, University of California Press, 2012, p. 94, fig. 3.9.
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