Introducing the Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive

By Austin Smith.

The former Takahara Building on the banks of the Shinmachi River, Tokushima.
The former Takahara Building on the banks of the Shinmachi River, Tokushima.

Tokushima was one of a number of Japanese cities bombed during a major assault which coincided with American Independence Day. The bombing began on the evening of 3rd July 1945 and continued throughout the night. Sixty-two percent of the city was hit by incendiary bombs from B29 bombers. Approximately one thousand people died and about two thousand were injured.

The Tokushima Air Raids Exhibition is a small photographic collection which is exhibited every July to mark the anniversary of this event. The exhibition is held in the former Takahara Building, a western-style building that survived the bombing. It stands on the banks of the Shinmachi River and the room in which the exhibition is held retains the original windows which were cracked on that night. The photographs in the collection span the twentieth century history of Tokushima City, including pre-war, wartime and post-war images.

The Tokushima Air Raids Digital Archive was launched in 2013 and is available all year round. I have written English explanations for the collection to coincide with the 2014 exhibition and to make the modern history of Tokushima accessible to a wider audience for years to come.

Every effort has been made to retain the essence of the original Japanese text and all of the information provided. Some contextual information has been added to aid understanding for the foreign reader. The responsibility for any in-accuracies is entirely my own.

Here are some of my favourite images from the collection along with their English explanations (these images are courtesy of the Tokushima Prefectural Archive) –

Awa Odori at Shinmachi Bridge
Awa Odori at Shinmachi Bridge

This photograph shows a line of Awa Odori dancers passing over the Shinmachi Bridge. Bon Odori was re-branded as “Awa Odori” by the Tourist Association of Tokushima in 1932 to promote the event nationally as a tourist attraction.

The Sako area of Tokushima.
The Sako area of Tokushima.

There was almost nothing left of the Sako Otani area. Yet, surrounded by the misery of war, an elderly couple relax in an open-air bath. Beautiful colours usually grace Sakoyama in spring but this wartime scene is desolate.

Awa Odori in front of City Hall after the war (1946).

The famous dance festival which had been suspended during the war years was restored in 1946. This is a scene from that time, in front of Tokushima City Hall. The presence of occupying soldiers watching is a symbol of the post-war era.

Photographs from Mikawa House.

By Austin Smith.

Due to the positive feedback the photographs from Mikawa House received, I have decided to add a larger compilation of images to this blog (many of which were originally edited and uploaded via instagram). I was contacted by people who remembered visiting the house during its time as accommodation for nursing students, so this may be of particular interest to them.

The original post on Mikawa House can be viewed here –

The approach to Mikawa House.
A fireplace on the ground floor.
Stained glass above doors to the balcony.
The flight of marble stairs.
The landing on the second floor.
The billiards room.
The entrance hall.
The garden.
Art nouveau arch and stained glass.
A dark upstairs corridor.
The main bathroom, with a mosaic of a traditional Japanese scene.
The Japanese style room.
The Japanese style room.

Mikawa House, Tokushima.

By Austin Smith.

The approach to Mikawa House, Tokushima-shi

Mikawa House sits on the banks of the Shinmachi river near the Prefectural Office in Tokushima-shi. Built in 1928, it is the oldest European-style residence in the prefecture. Thankfully, the building survived the heavy U.S. bombing of the city during the Asia Pacific War and was designated as an Important Cultural Property by the national government in 2007. However, it currently stands unoccupied and inaccessible to the general public.

The house was originally owned by Yoshiyaki Mikawa, a doctor of obstetrics and gynaecology who had studied radiology at Universtat zu Berlin. Following the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Mikawa realised the importance of creating earthquake resistant buildings. He enlisted the help of Kinouchi Toyojiro, an industrial engineer who had also studied in Germany, at Leipzig. Mikawa House was built in the Jugendstil style (“The style of youth”), a movement influenced by English Art Nouveau as well as Japanese applied arts and prints. Made from ferroconcrete, the house is said to resemble a German country house or castle – one of an array of cultural connections between Tokushima and Germany from this period.

Mikawa House is currently owned and maintained by the Tokushima city government, staff of the city’s education research department, including myself, were given a supervised tour of the building to appreciate its layout and unique features.

The exterior of the house and surrounding garden are all that can currently be seen by the public, either from the roads along the banks of the Shinmachi river or from trains bound for Mugi on the JR line (which runs past the property). The house boasts a turret-style chimney, a gargoyle perched on the roof overlooking the river and curvaceous, mosaic tiled balconies.

The garden is a fusion of east and west, with moss-covered statues of lions and athletic figures in thoughtful poses standing amongst more traditional Japanese stone arrangements. This juxtaposition is continued throughout the interior of the property.

The garden of Mikawa House.

The layout of the property is very different from that of other Japanese homes of the period. A grand porch leads to the main hall with doors to the drawing room, dining room and access to a corridor leading to the kitchen and utility rooms. A marble staircase can be taken up to the second and third floors, each with spacious landings and corridors.

The landing on the second floor has parquet wood flooring and it opens on to a wide balcony over the porch below. There is also a games room with the original carom billiards table (pocketless) standing in front of a large fireplace in a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, Japanese influences remain, there is an eight mat tatami room on the same floor complete with sliding doors and an alcove. The third floor, containing sleeping quarters, is the least opulent.

The landing – with access to the balcony on the left, the games room in the centre and the tatami room on the right.

There are sash windows throughout the property and there is stained glass over double doors to the porch and balconies. In the majority of rooms the walls are papered and the floors are carpeted – although they are badly worn and in a poor condition. Coving and skirting boards are other obvious European features. A number of rooms contain fireplaces and chandeliers hang from the ceiling, while additional lighting appears to have been added at a later date.

Until approximately twenty years ago, the house was used as accommodation for student nurses. Locals recall seeing laundry hanging from the balconies and bikes parked outside. Air conditioning units, additional bathing facilities and western style toilets are notable later additions that would need to be removed to return the property to its former glory. Although there are ambitions to transform Mikawa House into a museum open to the public it is thought that it would cost five hundred million yen to restore the original features and remove the alterations.

Although the current condition of the interior is unfortunate, it is perhaps understandable given the most recent occupants. The exterior and garden are well maintained by the city government with the objective being to preserve the building for future generations. Ambitions to restore the property could be realised if funding becomes available.

The History of ‘The Big Hina Matsuri’ – Katsuura, Tokushima.

By Austin Smith.

The central pyramid of The Big Hina Matsuri, Katsuura.

Katsuura is a rural town of around 6,000 people lying roughly 12 miles south-west of Tokushima City. The town is known locally for growing mikan oranges and for hosting one of the largest doll festivals in Japan.

The origins of doll festivals in Japan can be traced back to the mid-Heian era, 1000 years ago. Rituals using dolls as human representations were carried out in early March to drive out evil spirits. They were purified with water – washed, sent down river and out to sea. These beautiful dolls are still viewed with suspicion, the reason so many are donated by the public is that they are thought to bring bad luck if disposed of when the owners no longer have room for them.

Young girls from wealthy families had long enjoyed playing with dolls, early examples of which can be viewed in both Katsuura and the Tokushima Castle Museum. This custom soon spread to all levels of society. From the beginning of the Edo period dolls became popular gifts for newborn girls, doll markets were held in major towns and the dolls themselves became more elaborate and valuable. In response, the Shogunate issued decrees to keep the majority of dolls plain, simple and low cost.

In the Meiji period, the government discontinued hina events, partly due to their feudal associations. New national holidays were established. Nevertheless, the tradition remained popular – Children’s Day was made a national holiday in the postwar period and the doll festivals gradually returned.

In 1981, a harsh winter hit agricultural production in Katsuura and the townspeople decided to host an annual festival to reverse the town’s fortunes. In 1985 a committee was formed and the decision to host “The Big Hina Doll Festival” was reached. The committee set about collecting enough dolls from residents of the town, and further afield, to fill a 100 stepped pyramid 3.4 metres high. The first festival was held over two days in April 1988.

Over time, the festival became more and more popular so it became easier to source dolls to display. People from across the country send dolls and doll cases to Katsuura Town Office every year. Approximately 10,000 dolls are donated annually with 30,000 dolls on display in total. The festival, which now runs from late February to early April, receives a great deal of media coverage and the town receives more than 30,000 visitors each year. At the end of the festival surplus dolls are given to visitors as gifts and hina dolls have been officially sent to more than twenty countries as international gesture of goodwill. In 2004 the festival organisers acquired a disused woodwork factory and transformed the space into an exhibition hall, a symbol of the shift of the town’s economy from agricultural production to tourism.

The Big Hina Matsuri in Katsuura supports the local economy while being a great source of community pride and purpose. This is particularly important at a time when many small towns across Japan are facing an uncertain future. This renewed sense of community purpose and the boost to the local economy is reminiscent of the Awa Odori festival in the prefectural capital. However, like many other ‘traditional’ Japanese festivals across the country, the motivations for hosting the festival and the history of the event are more recent than they may appear.

ビッグひな祭り will be on display in Katsuura until April 7th this year!