The Japan where we are now is a very different one from the country we were working in during last year’s harvest season. There is the massive devastation wrought by the earthquake and tsunami – figures for the Killed, Missing and Injured displayed in a small black-bordered Disaster Toll box on the cover of The Daily Yomiuri, for example, and many newspaper inner pages given over to addressing the dynamic and wide-ranging consequences of the aftermath. There is also the nuclear crisis. Negotiated on TV with aerial shots of the ruined Fukushima plant, graphic maps with shaded zones and numbers, men holding microphones in pristine uniforms, shoulder-held video cameras panning to show roadblocks constructed and manned, cows wandering along roads in the Exclusion Zone, people standing in temporary relief centres or being interviewed examining belongings – school Year Books, family portrait photographs – in the homes they are required to leave. If the televisual tone, to an outsider, feels worried but measured, this mood may not fully extend outwards. Talking to Japanese friends by email before our arrival and to people here, there is fury, frustration and disbelief, too.
How does this change things? Although the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis are all hinged around one of the central articulations of the “Air Pressure” project – the connection between life-health and environmental effects – our sense at the moment is to hold the focus firmly to the site of the farm island and the airport complex at its shores.
The crises do impinge here and impinge directly. More than a sensible shift in the emotional temperature, air traffic has been dramatically diminished in the wake of events – I’ve just seen a TV report indicating a 29% reduction – and this, in turn, will spread throughout the structures that have been bolted to the airport: the transport networks, the hotels and the retail outlets. All of this will have an appreciable effect on the soundscape: on traffic and train noise, on the acoustic impact of over-flights, on the reverberant Muzaked emptiness heard in the shopping malls and hotel lobbies. We have learned that the farm, too, has seen a drop in demand for its produce and, if true, this will also alter the sonic atmosphere there.