Affective dark tourism encounters: Rikuzentakata after the 2011 Great East Japan Disaster
This article discusses the case of Rikuzentakata, a town almost completely destroyed by the 2011 tsunami provoked by the Great East Japan Disaster. It shows how the town has directed some of its recovery efforts toward the development of a specific form of post-disaster tourism. Two main strategies implemented by the local authorities are analyzed in detail: first, the celebration of Ipponmatsu, or the Miracle Pine, a symbol of resilience in the face of devastation; second, the promotion of Rikuzentakata as the ‘Hiroshima of the North’. Both these discourses were based on the engineering and the apprehension of specific affective post-disaster atmospheres and perceived by residents and local authorities as key for attracting international visitors. Our analysis highlights how a politics of affect built around the tsunami has been spatialized and grounded using material landmarks (The Miracle Pine), but also narratives of hope and resilience based on comparisons with Hiroshima. Such affective atmospheres, we conclude, were planned and performed as an attempt to facilitate cross-cultural communication and allow visitors to contemplate death and disaster on their own terms, while at the same time involving them in a broader processes of healing from trauma and recovery for Rikuzentakata and its residents.