Resource: Visualizations and Digital Analyses on Modern Japan

Much is presently being made of the digital humanities, that is, how we can use digital tools to engage, answer, or facilitate humanities study. From this marriage of tech and humanistic thought, a number of fascinating projects related to Japan have popped up that not only prompt fresh questions about our world but also archive and make available information in new and exciting ways. Today I will briefly introduce a number of projects by Steven Braun, a creative developer and data analytics/visualization specialist at Northeastern University who also works with Japanese subjects.

Among Braun’s numerous online projects are the following selection, which engage broad topics from the relationship between historical memory and Japanese textbooks to the relationship between kanji radicals and a variety of digital methods, including network visualization and language frequency maps. Below are just a few of the projects Braun has created, which I encourage you to explore and share as great examples of the intersection between technology, history, linguistics, and numerous other aspects of Japanese society:

Sono Toki

This project draws on the Japan Disasters Archive (JDA) of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, an archive of images, websites, articles, video, and other media related to the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Tōhoku, Japan. Here, Braun has put together a series of interactive visualizations that help us think about collective memory, correlating the co-occurrence of keywords from disaster testimonials with distance from the epicenter. The testimonials are responses to the question, “その時、何をしていましたか What were you doing at the time the disaster struck?

Radical Reactions

This project seeks to add a physical element to the understanding our education over the years in reading and writing kanji characters. Braun seeks to visualize radicals and the kanji they compose like atoms with shared bonds, clustered across the school years of learning new vocabulary. Ever thought about just how complex your knowledge in kanji characters actually is? Check out this visualization to be impressed with yourself!

Atomic Narratives: U.S. and Japanese Textbook Accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In this visualization, Braun comparatively explores textual narratives of U.S. and Japanese accounts of the atomic bombings in World War II. What gets emphasized, and what doesn’t? How does this change across publishers and cultural difference? The textbooks used get tokenized by part of speech, demonstrating the structure of the stories that get told, and later, by topics. While this project is just a sampling of select textbooks, it very much puts the process of writing history into perspective.

Other projects related to Japan that appear on the site are:

  • Space, Time, and Body Asunder: Mapping the Voices of the Hiroshima Archive
  • Kanji Deconstructed
  • Passing the Beat: Crossover Artists in the U.S., U.K., and Japan

You could literally lose hours sifting through these projects and their data, so be sure to check it out when you have the time!

About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of academic life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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