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In Session: Materializing Memories in Contemporary Japanese Religions
1: Structuring Memory: Competing Visions for Memorials to the Great Kanto Earthquake
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Chicago, United States
What is the process by which an appropriate and effective memorial design is chosen and built to commemorate a collective trauma? This paper explores this question by examining the history of the design and construction of the Earthquake Disaster Memorial Hall (now Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial Hall), completed in 1930 in Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo. In particular, this paper examines materials submitted (including designs, budgets, and written descriptions) by various architects to a design competition for the proposed memorial space. A controversy occurred as a result of the initial choice by the competition judges, in which Buddhist organizations, who were fundraising for the construction of the memorial, argued that the design was too western and did not sufficiently reflect Japanese spiritual culture. In response, Ito Chuta, one of the judges, was selected to design a memorial in his Pan-Asian style, which was deemed more culturally appropriate. The study interrogates the cultural politics of the various architects’ visions and how they sought to evoke official memory and affect through memorial architecture. In the contest submissions and controversy, one can see the ambition to engage a larger international culture of memorialization clashing with a desire for more traditionally Japanese forms. By studying these various architectural visions along with the material result of the design controversy, this paper sketches the affective possibilities and limitations of memorial spaces in interwar Japan. Ultimately this paper hopes to illuminate how memorial spaces are deemed emotionally appropriate and thus materially possible within the cultural politics of a given time.