This is blog post number 123. For many I suspect that there is no particular significance of this number. 123. Or 1, 2, 3. But for me, I will always associate it with JL123, Japan’s and the aviation world’s Titanic, which has been one of my research areas since 2007. I have already done a post recently in which I reflected upon my Brief Encounters in Research, but in this post I want to write a bit more about my research on JL123 to date and what happens from now on.
I have already written on my post about my JL123 research, and in my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash, why I started conducting research about the crash. When I had completed the book – which took longer than planned as I realised that the more I put into the study, the more I was getting out of it (plus there were good reasons to wait until after the 25th anniversary in 2010) – I had thought that my research about JL123 would come to an end. Although I had done three other publications related to my research on JL123 (‘Reporting the World’s Biggest Single Plane Crash‘, ‘Visualisation of Death in Japan: The Case of the Flight JL123 Crash‘, and ‘Disaster and Death in Japan: Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash‘), they were largely done in parallel with completing the book itself. The only completely new piece of work was what became the book Osutaka: A Chronicle of Loss in the World’s Largest Single Plane Crash – first published in 2014 and then updated in 2018 after the passing of Peter Mathews.
By 2013 I had been aiming to develop other areas of my research, but, as I had previously found with both my research on education reform in Japan and the shinkansen, there is an invisible tail to your research and people continue to contact you to ask you get involved in a variety of projects related to your previous research. In the case of JL123, however, the connections and reasons to continue just kept on coming. As I have stated before (both in terms of why I started the research, but also due to my experiences at the crash site), I feel a special connection to the accident, and even the village, Ueno-mura (about which I will write in another post).
It was perhaps inevitable, then, that I found some new research to explore in relation to JL123. The first of these became the article ‘Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials‘. The second, tied to some research on JL123 that I started many years earlier, but never found a way to strengthen, became the article ‘Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?‘ On top of this I had been approached by Japanese academics for my views and help in relation to research on JL123, for example, as I recently discussed in my post on Yasuhiro Nakasone.
I had also brought JL123 into my novel writing. Having decided not use a pseudonym for my novels, I decided to put more of my experiences and knowledge into them. The result was that some of Hijacking Japan had a change in location to Ueno-mura and date to 12 August so that I could bring the JL123 crash in (albeit using the more widely used JAL123). I then found ways to bring it into my second novel, Tokyo 20/20 Vision too – some more subtle than others. I don’t know whether it will feature in some way in all of my future novels – but I wouldn’t be surprised (especially as I enjoy putting ‘Easter Eggs’ of different sorts into my writing) – and it is likely to be a key influence of Book 4 of the Iwakura Series.
At one stage I had expected April 2020 to be an end point to my research on JL123. I was to give a seminar in Paris and, while there, was going to develop another part of my research related to symbolism and move on from JL123. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that trip didn’t happen. On top of that I had agreed to contribute a chapter to a book on Japanese media and would focus on the JL123 crash. I have been working on this chapter on and off for the past few weeks and plan to do more in the coming weeks when other teaching-related commitments come to an end. But there has been a change in other ways.
Although that chapter could have become the end point of my JL123 research and I would then focus on the new research monograph I have been developing, I have come to realise how wrong that would be. There are reasons why I should perhaps leave my JL123 and memorialisation research alone and move on. But equally, there are many good reasons to continue it. Some of this is about being honest to who I am, how I view my research and how I deal with aspects of both. In that respect, I have found the advice from Dovetail Coaching invaluable and I would highly recommend that people visit the site and have some sessions.
All of this has come as I find out about more people who have found my research on JL123 helpful. This has been both getting notifications of references to my work in other academic studies – for example, the PhD by Julia Boelle on The Media’s Representation of Airplane Disasters: An Analysis of Themes, Language and Moving Images – or in novels, such as The Three by Sarah Lotz (which is my next book to read during the lockdown) and Brända Brev (The Burnt Letter Society) by Dan T. Sehlberg. Indeed, in many ways, it is the novels that have made the greatest impression on me – not just because of the fact that my research is having impact beyond the academic community, but also because of the kind words by the authors about my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan. I put so much into that book, I doubt whether I will ever write something that I am so proud of again. On top of that, my posts on the JL123 isho (see The JL123 Isho and The significance of the isho (last messages) on JL123) are regularly my most read on this site.
Putting all of that together reaffirms why my research on JL123 and memorialisation should never end. I just need to find a way to allow the research to work for me and, with that, I will revise my plans for my next academic monograph. So while this is blog post 123, there will be no post (JL)123 for my writing.