Colorized Photos of 1923 Tokyo Quake to Be on Display

Jiji Press
University of Tokyo professor Hidenori Watanabe discusses the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, on Aug. 11.

Tokyo, Aug. 20 (Jiji Press)—A University of Tokyo professor is working on a project to colorize photographs of the major earthquake that struck the Japanese capital and surrounding areas a century ago and create a 3D map of the quake-hit areas.

Those photos and map will be displayed in an exhibition on the 1923 disaster set to start at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo on Sept. 1.

Hidenori Watanabe, the professor of information design, said that he hopes his project “will inspire people to prepare for the next disaster.”

Watanabe, who has been colorizing war- and disaster-related photos since 2016, posts colorized photos and their original black-and-white versions on X every day.

The exhibition will show off colorized versions of 10 photos, including of the Nakamise shopping street in Tokyo’s Asakusa district that was under reconstruction and of tsunami damage to Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, near the capital.

To colorize photos, artificial intelligence software is first used. Manual corrections are then employed as detailed parts are often colored unnaturally.

The colors of people’s clothes and belongings and roofs and rubble are estimated by picture postcards and documents in those days. It sometimes takes as long as two months to colorize a photo.

Viewers of colorized photos can feel close to things even though they happened in the past, Watanabe said. “It’s like being able to ‘enter’ the photo.”

“If I can obtain inputs from the exhibition, I can improve the resolution of the photos and help deepen people’s understanding of the disaster,” he said.

At the exhibition, aerial photos of about 20 locations immediately after the disaster and at present will be shown on a large 3D display. Visitors can control their own avatars projected on the display.

“The photos taken 100 years ago may suggest the next possible disaster,” Watanabe said. “I want to exhibit works that not only reflect on the past but also help us prepare for the future.”

The Sept. 1, 1923, quake left over 105,000 people dead or missing.