By Kim Kyung-hoon
“Time flies so fast.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve mumbled this phrase while traveling in Sendai and Fukushima last week for the six month anniversary of the March 11th earthquake and disaster that left tens of thousands dead across Japan and caused the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
With the scenes of fear and hopelessness from the areas devastated in March and the hardship of the assignments still vivid in my memory, I feel like the disaster happened just a few weeks ago.
By Kim Kyung-hoon
In 2004 I was in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh covering the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster which killed over 230,000 people in several south Asian countries. I met a tired-looking man tackling huge piles of rubble created by the tsunami in a brave effort to clean it up. He had only a shovel to use on the debris stretching on all sides as far as the eye could see. He stopped a moment and bemoaned to me that it would take more than several years to clear the rubble in his country. He also added that a rich country like Japan could clear it quickly with giant heavy construction equipment if a similar disaster happened in Japan. When I left Banda Aceh after my one-month stay there, the scenery going from the Reuters temporary base to the airport was almost the same as what I had seen on my first day there, and dead bodies still lay on the streets.
Last weekend, I traveled to Japan’s tsunami–destroyed towns again with my colleague to cover Japan’s traditional festival obon, when families welcome back the spirits of the dead.
By Kim Kyung-hoon
When I covered Fukushima’s nuclear crisis in March, the first radiation evacuees who I encountered were elderly people who had fled a nursing home which was located near the tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant which was leaking nuclear radiation.
On that night, most of the elderly who could not move well due to old age spent a cold night on a temporary shelter’s hard floor.
We, photographers at Reuters, usually work outside the office.
In truth, we will go anywhere which is likely to guarantee worthy news stories and stunning visual images.
Therefore, the list of our working places is as various as our pictures.
You might find us somewhere like the middle of a violent demonstration, miles away from a crippled nuclear power plant releasing nuclear radiation, on the deck of an aircraft carrier or on the roof of the Olympic stadium…..
As a Reuters photographer, I have covered many disasters and incidents over the last ten years but these things had little direct affect on my life. Just like the saying: “The photographer must be taken out of the picture”, I was a third party in most of these cases. By and large, those catastrophes had nothing to do with my personal life. Once my assignment was over, I used to go back to my normal life and switch from emergency mode.
But last month’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that sparked the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in Japan was different. I am not exempt from the fear caused by the disaster nor am I immune to the threat of the invisible nuclear radiation.
“Extraordinary, unique, outstanding….”
These words often promise an interesting news story and also they might guarantee success in someone’s job.
Mr. Watanabe, who I happened to find on the street, is an example of these words.
Downhill from the height of a 30-story-building and soaring through the air: this is the definition of ski jumping. The skiers reminded me of birdmen, or extreme skydivers.
While I was covering the “birdmen” at the Sapporo Ski Jumping World Cup, I noticed a similarity between shooting ski jumping and the job of Siberian hunters, which I had watched in a TV documentary. Instead of the hunters’ trap, I set up a remote-controlled camera at the bottom of the slope to capture the leap.
On August 15, a few days after U.S. atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, then-Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced in a rare public broadcast that the nation had surrendered.
This surrender ended the Pacific battle of World War II and liberated Koreans from Japan’s often-brutal 1910-1945 colonization.
Approximately one and a half million unwanted dogs have been put to death in public animal management centers across Japan in the last ten years.
It was a very surprising figure for me as I had only been covering Japan’s colorful and luxurious pet boom, so I decided to shed some light on the dark side of the industry.
Japan’s voters may have overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Taro Aso at the polls last week, but he and my camera got along just fine.The 68-year-old makes vigorous gestures with his hands and strong facial expressions. His crooked smirk and his eyes that sometimes seem to be popping out of his head always gave me a lot of interesting photo choices.Now the photogenic Aso must pack his bags and hand over the prime ministerial house keys to Yukio Hatoyama , the leader of the new ruling Democratic Party of Japan.Hatoyama, once nicknamed “the alien” for his prominent eyes, is — visually at least — less interesting except for his unruly locks that sometimes blow about in the wind.The problem for me behind the viewfinder was that Hatoyama was expected to win by a landslide while Aso was the visual winner.Surrounded by fluttering Japanese national flags, Aso in shirtsleeves looked vigorous when campaigning and his smile was that of a winner and his strong hand gestures displayed an eloquence which did not exist in his words.But Hatoyama, who mostly wore dark suits, hid behind microphones and covered his mouth when speaking and on the rare occasion he tried to convey strength and determination through his body language, he came off looking awkward and unnatural.On election night, Hatoyama won a landslide but just smiled. The jubilation that might be expected from such a massive victory was hidden from sight. By contrast, the defeated Aso stepping into shadown after making a speech acknowledging defeat looks like the fallen hero in a movie.I hope Aso gives Hatoyama some advice when he hands over those keys. Something like “Try using your hands when you give a speech” should do the trick.
Photo credits: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon (top), Issei Kato (middle), Toru Hanai (bottom)