Christopher Hood: Current Research

Christopher Hood: Current Research

My research interests primarily relate to Japan and fall into two areas. First, I am particularly interested in themes are relating to identity and symbolism. Second, I am interested in issues relating to the railways and aviation in Japan.

At present I am working on three articles related to the flight JL123 crash, which I have previously had two monographs about and some chapters in edited books. The JL123 plane crash of 12 August 1985 remains the world's largest single plane crash; 520 of the 524 on board died in Japan's and the aviation world's equivalent of the Titanic. My research interrogates the disaster through the prism of three distinct areas.


The first of the articles I will be working on relates to 'dark tourism'. 'Dark tourism' has arguably been around for a long time as pilgrimage was often also concerned with death. Lennon and Foley (2004, Dark Tourism) were the first to use the term 'dark tourism' and they suggest that it is a growing area of tourism and that central to its growth has been media as many of the destinations relate to events which have occurred since the invention of cameras, radio, television and modern communications. This tends to mean that the sinking of the Titanic is seen 'rather arbitrarily' as being the 'starting point' for 'dark tourism'. Lennon and Foley (2004:11) say that there are three critical features within 'dark tourism' – global communications creating the interest; the incident in question introduces 'anxiety and doubt' about modernization; and, there are opportunities for 'commodification' and 'a commercial ethic which (whether explicit or implicit) accepts that visitation (whether purposive or incidental) is an opportunity to develop a tourism product'. On the face of it JL123 would appears to fit with 'dark tourism', but further investigation raises significant questions about the concept of 'dark tourism' itself. Although I use the terms 'dark tourist' and 'dark tourism', I think that in many cases there is a fundamental flaw with them and this is what I will explore in my research. What I need to do in relation to my research about 'dark tourism' and JL123 is find out more about the people who visit the sites connected with the crash and how these sites are maintained. Ultimately the research is questioning whether that the term 'dark tourism' is helpful and whether it should continue to be used. However, even if the conclusion is that the term itself is not useful, there may be particular issues with how sites connected with death – particularly relatively recent events – are maintained and presented to the public. My research will question how this is done in the case of JL123 and whether there is anything different about how this is done in Japan compared to other countries and what the reasons for this may be, but also question what, if any, the more universal elements are and what the reasons for this may be

Shizumanu Taiyo DVD cover

The second article looks at the way in which the JAL plane crash of 1985 is written about in novels and covered in dramatizations and movies and the impact that this has on the social memory of the crash. This is particularly significant in relation to the JL123 crash as not only are there some disparities between the official report into the crash and a number of the dramatizations, there may also be questions about what actually happened (i.e. the official investigation may have been flawed). A further significant point is that there tends to be a disparity between the Japanese outputs and those in English. The article questions whether, despite the poetic license that fiction has, there is an underlying moral responsibility in how they handle historical events – particularly relatively recent ones where survivors and families of victims are still alive. It also looks at what the reasons may be for the different versions of events and what their impact is likely to be upon the social memory of the crash. The article compares the variations between the official report about what happened in 1985, what the novels & dramatizations say and also what the reality of what happened may have been. This will include an analyis of not only the contents of Japanese language materials, but also of the English language materials which still tend to accept the official report (together with some other stories initiated by English language sources).

Climber's High Book cover

The third article looks at the media reporting of the JL123 crash. The reporting of plane crashes and disasters in the media make popular reading, but little consideration, at least amongst the public, seems to be given to the impact upon the reporters themselves of getting such stories, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whilst it has been suggested that the percentage of reporters who suffer from PTSD in Japan is lower than many other countries (Hatanaka, M., Matsui, Y., Ando, K., Inoue, K., Fukuoka, Y., Koshiro, E., & Itamura, H., 2010, 'Traumatic stress in Japanese broadcast journalists', Journal of Traumatic Stress, 23, 173-177), what the reporters covering the JL123 crash had to contend with is illustrated in the novel Climber's High by Hideo Yokoyama who appears to have suffered PTSD himself when he covered the crash for a local newspaper. With Yokoyama becoming more known internationally due to the success of his novel 64, it is timely to be studying Climber’s High in more detail. The article will question about what happens in the reporting of disasters in Japan, why this happens, and whether literature can help educate the public about the impact on the reporters themselves.

N700-series shinkansen

Since 2001 I have been conducting research about the shinkansen ('bullet train'). Whilst my initial study was about the symbolism of the shinkansen and what can be learnt about Japanese society through a study of it, I have gone on to do further research looking at its local impact on cities and towns. My research has also looked at how the training of staff is done, and how they are supported by hardware, to make the shinkansen so safe. I am planning on developing this research further by also making comparisons with the airline industry in Japan, building upon the work I have done about the JL123 crash and the lessons learnt from that. Also, again building upon previous research, I will be looking at the issue of integrated transport in Japan - particularly the relationship between railways and airports and what impact the numerous airports in Japan have upon local communities.

ANA Pokemon Boeing 747 landing at Haneda

Building upon my interests in symbolism and the aviation industry in Japan, I am also conducting research about the marketing and branding of railways and airline companies in Japan. This includes looking at the choice of logos of companies and why some planes are painted in particular ways to try to attract custom and how effective this is. The number of airlines in Japan has increased in recent years through the introduction of Low Cost Carriers (LCC) and I am researching to look at how this has come about and what its impact is upon the transportation sector in Japan. This research will also look at the ways in which airline companies attempt to remain profitable in Japan whilst not compromising safety. Building upon my research on the shinkansen, which included a study of the break-up and privatization of the Japanese National Railways, my research will also consider the issue of public and private financing in the aviation sector in Japan, together with the roles that unions play and how these issues played out in the bankruptcy of JAL.

Please contact me if you would like to know more about my research or to discuss any of it with me.

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(C) Christopher P. Hood, 2003-18.

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