On Monday, September 19th, the 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI*) hosted Prof. Daniel Smith of Columbia University in its in-person “Japan Politics & Society” multidisciplinary public speaker series. Prof. Smith is the Gerald L. Curtis Visiting Associate Professor of Modern Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy in the Department of Political Science and School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. His interests cover a range of topics in Japanese politics, comparative politics, political economy, and political behavior.
Prof. Smith’s campus engagement activities included a public seminar entitled “Destruction from Above: Contemporary Social & Political Legacies of the Tokyo Air Raids,” as well as various meals and exchanges with students and 21JPSI-affiliated faculty throughout his stay on campus. Roughly 30 IU faculty and students filled the seminar room.
During his remarks, Dr. Smith discussed the research his team conducted to assess whether communities heavily damaged by the 1945 U.S. firebombing of Tokyo continue to experience negative impacts 70-plus years later, as measured by social capital and socioeconomic outcomes like unemployment and education. Analyzing damage at the micro (neighborhood) level, the study drew on historical archives, aerial photographs, and maps as well as census data for contemporary indicators. Dr. Smith and his colleagues found that even after accounting for population changes over the past seven decades, WWII air raids negatively affected socioeconomic performance of communities due to the destruction of social networks and informal institutions like neighborhood associations.
Additionally, Dr. Smith suggested that their study may have important implications beyond Japan: including in other regions where large-scale conflict or natural disasters have caused serious damage and dislocations. Finally, he argued that because such calamities greatly reduce social capital and create setbacks for people in rebuilding their communities—potentially for generations—policy makers should proactively seek to mitigate these negative impacts through investment and focused countermeasures.
After concluding his remarks, Dr. Smith fielded a wide array of questions from the audience on topics ranging from the study’s research methodology to substantive questions about the history of Tokyo’s neighborhoods and impacts on voter turnout.
*About 21JPSI: The 21st Century Japan Politics and Society Initiative (21JPSI) was launched at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies in 2018. Under the leadership of Founding Director and HLS faculty member Adam Liff, 21JPSI aims to invigorate and expand research, teaching, and programming on contemporary Japanese politics, society, and international (esp. U.S.-Japan) relations, and to educate, raise awareness, and debate policy responses to the various political, social, and foreign policy challenges that Japan faces in this extremely dynamic era of 21st-century change. Seeded by a generous $900,000 grant from the Japan Foundation, in its first five years 21JPSI has enabled a new tenure-track faculty line in contemporary Japanese politics and society; facilitated the creation of four new courses on contemporary Japan; launched a new multidisciplinary speaker series on Japanese Politics and Society, national conferences and webinars on U.S.-Japan relations, and academic manuscript workshops; and funded graduate fellowships and faculty travel grants to support field research in Japan. For more information, please visit https://jpsi.indiana.edu/ .