Have you seen this Fukushima child?

February 7, 2012

By Kim Kyung-Hoon

Near midnight on March 12th, 2011, I was looking for Fukushima evacuees who had fled from towns near the nuclear power plant hit by a massive tsunami and earthquake the day before, and was now leaking radiation.

On hearing the warnings of meltdown and radiation leaks at the nuclear plant, my colleagues and I drove west from Fukushima airport where we landed by helicopter with two very simple goals: stay as far away as possible from the nuclear power plant, and find the evacuees.

However, there was no clear information where to find the evacuees and how far away we had to stay from the nuclear plant to ensure our safety in the panicky and chaotic situation.

After asking around for several hours in Koriyama city in Fukushima Prefecture, we found out that all the evacuees were getting radiation checks before they could be admitted to evacuation centers. When we got to the makeshift inspection station, which was set up at Koriyama Sports Complex, what we encountered was more like a scene from a sci-fi movie. Officials in protective suits from head to toe were scanning the refugees to check whether they were radioactive.

The evacuees were standing in a long line waiting for the radiation test. What I saw in their eyes was terror and anger at their government’s inefficiencies. Several people who had been tested for radioactivity had been separated from the group and they were sitting on the ground with despairing and puzzled looks as they waited for decontamination.

In the long line of evacuees, I spotted a little girl brought by her mother.

When her turn came, the child raised her two hands toward the scanning machine as if she was being threatened and I sensed that it would be my key picture that night as I pressed the shutter.

This picture was taken in Koriyama Sports Complex around midnight on March 12th, 2011. I would be very grateful if anyone reading this article could give me any information about her. I can be reached by email at kyunghoon.kim@thomsonreuters.com

In a rush to file the picture, I left the scene in a hurry without asking for her personal information such as name, age and where she came from. Asking questions at such a time of confusion would not have resulted in answers from the stunned evacuees; they didn’t even seem to be able to talk. My adrenaline was up, pushing me to send the picture as quickly as possible. Otherwise I would have surely gotten more information from her.

It was a really brief encounter with this Fukushima child but this picture got a lot of attention from all over the world, because it was the first image of evacuees in this nuclear disaster. It was subsequently posted in many newspapers and magazines across the world, and it appeared on anti-nuclear protest banners in Tokyo as an icon of the tragedy in Fukushima.

Now almost a year has passed and I have been seeking the child since last year. The only clue I have is my TV colleague’s video piece. In his video piece, another evacuee who had been in the line for radiation tests said he had come from a town called Okumamachi. With this clue, I sent print-outs to Okumamachi evacuees to find the girl but I have not received any clues yet on how to locate her.

Recently I was informed by government officials that many evacuee groups from different towns had been mixed that night so she might not have come from Okumamachi.

Therefore, I have been asking other evacuees from nearby towns to help find the girl, but it seems as if there will be a very slim chance of finding her because the communities were all torn apart.

Where is she now?

Almost a year has passed, but the image of the girl still causes me vivid flashbacks as this she reminds me so much of my own daughter. As a father, I am really sorry that she was thrown into such unexpected and invisible danger.

If I can see her again, I would like to hold her small hands and encourage her. I want to tell her that many people have seen her picture and are hoping she is okay.

I would be very grateful if anyone reading this article could give me any information about her. I can be reached by email at kyunghoon.kim@thomsonreuters.com.

Below are other pictures of her and her mother.


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Dear Mr Kim Kyung-Hoon,

Your very emotive and moving photo of this young child did indeed do much to help convey to the world the plight and suffering of all young children and their families during those terrifying and confusing days and weeks after the meltdowns at the Daiichi Nuclear plant. As you say, now almost a year has past and, as difficult as the situation still is for so many thousands and thousands of children, parents and families who have suffered so much from the regions devastated by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, people are trying recover and move on with their individual lives. As you know in Japan uninvited inquiries into one’s family’s life are not welcomed culturally. I feel sure you intention is good but would you please consider the fact that, as useful and sympathetic as the photo printed worldwide was at the appropriate time, that now this family has a right to privacy. Without knowing whether or not this family suffered a loss of a loved one to the tsunami, or what is the current psychological condition of the members of this family, child, mother or other family members there is a possibility that they may not want to see themselves on the ‘world stage’ again. With respect, would you kindly consider removing this post, or at the very least removing the photo of this child’s mother and restore and protect the privacy of this particular little child’s family life? As a father, would you want your wife’s photo to be published on the internet just before the anniversary of what could be, for this family, one of the most painful and heart-breaking times of their life?

With cordial regards from East Japan

Posted by izumiw | Report as abusive

It’s really touching story. I’ve thought that photographers just snap someone and then forget about it.But I found out I was wrong. In a research,I’ve found out many photographers have found their “people” in the pictures later and they formed a very special connections each other.
Really wish you can find the girl.

Posted by ToshiJT | Report as abusive

To the prior commenter: nuclear radiation is the thing that is not welcome in family life, and in many ways Fukushima changed the culture of Japan. The photographer has an ethical obligation to know who this family is, and a personal need to do so. Many assume that a photographer can be dropped into a global crisis, such as a war or a mass evacuation, and somehow not be touched by events. That is not how it works. A photographer is in the events at eye level, not thinking about them in terms of data, quotes and claims of officials, and abstract ideas about “safety.” Selecting and editing the photos the photographer makes contact with his or her subjects a second time, and the images can indeed be haunting. To me this is the image that sums up both Fukushima and the effects of the nuclear crisis — all in the girl’s expression. It is one of the most touching and indeed disturbing news photos I have ever seen.

Note that just because the photographer knows who this is does not mean that the information will be published. Were I this family I would certainly want to hear back.


Eric Francis
Planet Waves

Posted by Book-of-Blue | Report as abusive