The significance of the isho (last messages) on JL123

I’ve recently moved my website. Whilst many things have changed, one thing has remained the same. Consistently one of the most popular pages (on many days, the most popular) is the one that contains my translations of the isho (last messages) written on JL123 (JAL 123).

I have written in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash about the isho, of course, and the translations appear in that book. That book also contains a picture of perhaps that most well-known isho, after I was allowed to go and look at the diary for myself and take the pictures. It was a truly special moment to be able to hold the diary and to see the isho for myself. Despite having been to the crash site, seeing & touching parts of the plane wreckage, there is clearly something special about the isho.

As I wrote about in Dealing with Disaster in Japan, the updated version of a book on disasters which I had read as a child named its section about JL123 ‘Love letters in the sky’ due to the isho. There is still much discussion about the isho – with even some suggesting that Kyū Sakamoto having written an isho, although there is no evidence to support this. My translation of the isho also appears in the book More Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience.

So why is there so much interest in these isho? Is it because it brings us closer to understanding the disaster and what the passengers went through? Is there the same level of interest in those who died in the planes on 9/11, for example, when some passengers even left voicemail messages? Is it because people hope to find clues about what really happened to JL123, given that there are still question marks (particularly in books & articles written in Japanese) about what the actual cause of the crash? Do people who read the isho then look to learn more about the crash itself? Some of these things I discuss in my book, of course. And, I’m sure there are different reasons for different people.

One thing is also clear to me, as part of my Iwakura series of novels, one of the books will be dealing with a plane crash and I will have to include isho in it. The first book in the series, Tokyo 20/20 Vision, came out in 2020. At the moment, I expect the one dealing with the plane crash to be the fourth in the series and come out in 2023. Before then, I would like to know more about what draws people to read isho and what contents make an impression on people.

UPDATE (6 October 2020): I am currently conducting a survey about people’s interest in and impressions of the isho. Please could you help with my research by going to https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/ZVPLJB3. All of the data will be collected anonymously and according to the appropriate research ethics.

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