Maps of Solidarity

During these days in Narita I have been reading Oliver Morton’s “Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination and the Birth of a World” which my friend Dan sent to me just before I left the UK. As its title suggests, one of the book’s preoccupations is humanity’s successive cartographic responses to our neighbouring planet, from the 19th century’s paintings based on telescope observation to the latest digital photographs beamed back from the Mars Pathfinder mission at the end of the 20th century.

In the “Air Band” post, from October 4th, 2010, I talked about the Terminal Control Area Chart for Narita where features that are conventionally represented on maps – roads, and cities, for example – are diminished in size and scale to afford prominence to relief elevations, airways and radio navigation. Two days ago, in the Aeronautical Museum, I found some other maps on display in a mock-up of a control tower. Each of these establishing different relationships to the sundry layers of potential information: geological, political (in the strict sense of “polis”, as signs of human habitation like outlines of urban areas or transport routes), directional (locations of beacons or VHF omni-directional (VOR) range stations) or Air Traffic Control (ATC) service details for live ground-based supervision of flight.

Other maps might also be worth unfolding. Weather maps, for example, are of keen importance. These would not just be relevant for pilots judging how to yaw the plane in alignment with cross-winds or how rain might reduce the affect of braking after touchdown. Wind direction is relevant to the Shimamuras, too, since it can determine which of Narita’s two main runways are going to be used. If the prevailing wind direction allocates Runway B for use then the experience on the farm changes dramatically, putting hulking cylinders of polished steel and noise and heat, like the Qantas 747 that’s just dropped in, some 40 metres above the main building. But weather maps might be equally important for the agricultural identity of the farm, with rain – like the showers we had yesterday as a cold front moved east from Mongolia – changing what activities are possible.

There are still other maps, too: maps of flora and fauna like those we saw at the Chiba City Prefecture museum; noise contour maps like the one on the table in the Mayor’s office; more finely graded sound maps could be developed like those devised in acoustic ecology and adapted since; epidemiological maps might draw together varieties of health indexes in an effort to discern whether patterns of symptoms reveal effects of exposure to aircraft noise; a map of the former farming settlement of Toho that was swept away for the airport after such bitter struggles.

Sitting around the kitchen table yesterday talking to the Shimamuras, it became clear that this last map – which Hayashi, Rupert and Professor Hiramatsu are going to try and find in the Narita City Library – would hold something that our work has not yet managed to grasp. The Shimamuras had watched our first prototype sound film and one of their criticisms of it was that it portrayed them as remote and isolated. Their sense of themselves was very far removed from lonely strugglers bent over the rows of lush vegetables in our depiction. As they talked about their lives on the farm over the past decades, to particular words became charged with meaning and value: ‘delicious’ and ‘solidarity’. It is not so much, then, the pre-Lapsarian community of Toho that we should be trying to map in sound and image. It is the present networks of support and solidarity that the Shimamuras currently enjoy.

How we might achieve this is perhaps the most important task ahead of us.

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