Photographers' Blog

Fukushima’s children

Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

By Toru Hanai

It will soon be the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I myself live in Tokyo, more than a three-hour drive away. Right after the disaster, I too bought bottled water both to drink and to use around the house. Now, however, I drink from the tap without thinking about it.

As the anniversary of the nuclear accident approached, I found myself wondering what life has been like for the people of Fukushima, especially the children, whose lives are still directly affected by it.

So I visited Koriyama city in Fukushima prefecture, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Until last year, Koriyama recommended that children aged 0-2 should not spend more than 15 minutes a day outside and those aged 3-5 should not be outdoors for more than 30 minutes. Even now, some nurseries voluntarily continue to use these limits after the official recommendations were relaxed.

The samurai and survivors of Fukushima

Fukushima, Japan

By Damir Sagolj

Shortly after the mandatory evacuation was announced on television, Fumio Okubo put on his best clothes and his daughter-in-law served up his favorite dinner. By morning, the 102-year-old was dead. He had hanged himself before dawn.

GALLERY: BROKEN LIVES OF FUKUSHIMA

A rope knitted from plastic bags is certainly not a tanto knife. Nor was his death a dramatic one, with the public in attendance and blood all around but what an old farmer did that morning recalls the act of a samurai in ancient times – to die with honor. Okubo, who was born and lived his entire life between Iitate’s rice fields and cedar trees, wanted to die in his beautiful village, here and nowhere else.

For most people on Japan’s eastern coast – at least for those survivors who lost nobody and nothing – the true horror of the powerful earthquake and tsunami it triggered was over quickly. But for many unfortunate souls in otherwise prosperous Fukushima prefecture, March 11, 2011 was just the start of what for me is one of the most heart-rending stories I have ever covered outside the misery of the developing world.

The quiet of a nuclear beach

Iwaki, Japan

By Issei Kato

“I have to arrive at the beach before it starts raining.” This is what I was thinking as I drove up to the Fukushima coast, less than 35 km (21 miles) from the crippled nuclear plant. Because the weather forecast said it was going to rain in the region, I had packed a waterproof kit for my camera and beach gear so I could be ready to photograph the beach.

Iwaki city, located just 40 km (24 miles) south of the plant, had declared nearby Yotsukura beach open to the public this summer, the first time since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But, during the period between July 15 and August 18, when the beach was open to the public, the operator of the plant admitted that contaminated water was leaking out to the ocean. Government officials said 300 tonnes of radioactive water was probably flowing out to the sea every day.

Most of Japan’s beaches are controlled by the local government, which holds official opening ceremonies during the summer months and assigns lifeguards to patrol the beach. Residents and visitors can go to the beach during the off-season too, but it is usually less crowded. I went to the beach just after the open season had ended, thinking there would still be about 100 residents enjoying the sun, even though it was weekday, because the summer holiday season had still not ended.

Seaside nuclear power

Omaezaki, Japan

By Toru Hanai

Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Japan is located at water level next to a beach. It is also widely reported to be one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear plants as it sits close to a major fault line – not unlike the one that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

I had an offer of an exclusive tour of Chubu Nuclear Power Station where an 18-meter (60 ft) high and 1.6 km (1 mile) long tsunami defense wall has been built at a cost of $1.3 billion.

Being located beachside I immediately thought of basing the main photo for this trip on this famous “ukiyoe” print by the artist Hokusai:

Destination Fukushima: Two years on

Fukushima, Japan

By Issei Kato

“Let’s put our hearts together and keep going, Fukushima!” reads a large banner that hangs across a large steel structure that stands next to the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The plant was overwhelmed by a massive tsunami and earthquake two years ago, triggering hydrogen explosions and a nuclear meltdown.

I was at the Fukushima site for the second time on Wednesday, ahead of the two year anniversary of the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, as a pool photographer, taking pictures of the crippled plant on behalf of foreign media based in Japan. This time, I was struck by how many more workers were on-site and the large number of tanks filled with contaminated water scattered around the area.

Inside the world’s biggest nuclear plant

Kashiwazaki, Japan

By Kim Kyung-hoon

“Sleeping nuclear giants” – That was my first impression when I visited the world’s biggest nuclear power station, Kashiwazaki Kariwa power plant in Japan’s Niigata Prefecture.

GALLERY: IMAGES FROM THE PLANT

With seven reactors which can produce a total of 8,212 megawatts of electricity, this power station is officially registered as the largest nuclear power station in the Guinness Book of Records. But the reality of the power station is much different than its reputation. Two of its reactors were shut down for a time after the 2007 earthquake and the remaining reactors were taken offline for safety checks and maintenance due to public concerns about the safety of nuclear energy in the quake-prone country after Fukushima’s nuclear disaster.

However its operator Tokyo Electronic Power Co (TEPCO) hopes to get this power plant operating because they are overwhelmed by the soaring cost of fuel as well as radiation cleanup costs and compensation payments to displaced residents. TEPCO invited the Reuters multimedia team into the nuclear power plant in order to show their upgraded safety practice.

Republic of the elderly

By Kim Kyung-hoon

There are several key descriptive phrases to keep in mind when talking about Japan; one obvious to everyone is “Rapidly Aging Society”.

The rise of the elderly population and falling birth rate are no longer surprising news. One in four people in Japan is now over 65 years.

If you have the chance to walk around Tokyo’s downtown area, you’ll probably nod your head in recognition of the truth of this phrase. When you stop at a crosswalk to cross the street, you will find yourself surrounded by people who have silver hair and are stooped with age. When you watch TV you will see commercials for adult diapers and denture washers, common during prime time. Because the elderly are a big consumer group in Japan, Japanese enterprises never forget to satisfy the elderly and they gladly provide elderly consumers with their state-of-the-art technologies such as a care robot or a walk-assist robot.

Where have all the toys come from?

By Kim Kyung-hoon

When you look at the mountain of toys in this picture, you might think that your childhood dream has come true and this is a toy lover’s paradise.

In fact, what seemed to be a child’s dream come true was not a magic spell but “recycling”.

Japan’s famous contemporary artist, Hiroshi Fuji, renowned for using the theme of recycling in his various artworks over the last decade, held his solo exhibition in Tokyo and surprisingly, his art creations were made from more than 100,000 unwanted toys. The numerous toys had been collected from across Japan over the last 13 years through community activities to recycle these unwanted toys by bartering among children.

Empty spaces

By Carlos Barria

A year ago I went to Japan to cover the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the country’s northern coast.

At the time I was shocked by the scale of the destruction and felt I needed to show the magnitude of the disaster. I tried to fill my pictures with as many elements as possible. I even took a series of panoramic-format photographs, for a wider view.

My pictures at the time showed spaces filled with pieces of houses, twisted cars and people’s belongings– the debris of daily life.

The place that adults fear

By Toru Hanai

March 11 is here again in Japan.

A year after the tsunami devastated Higashi Matsushima city in Miyagi, seven-year-old Wakana Kumagai visited the grave of her father Kazuyuki with her mother Yoshiko, brother Koki, and her grandparents.

I first met Wakana last April, just weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and huge tsunami devastated Japan’s northeast Pacific coast. The school year begins in April here in Japan, and Wakana was carrying her new, shiny red school backpack as she visited her father at a temporary graveyard that housed those who died from the tsunami. She gracefully bowed to her dad, showing off her new bag and her dress she wore for the first grader’s ceremony as if she were at a ball, and told him that she just attended her school for the first time. Her graceful bow struck my heart.

The next time I saw Wakana was on September 11, half a year after the disaster. Seeing her pray at the spot where her father’s car was found, Wakana looked like she had grown up a little bit. I heard that she was writing letters to her father, saying “Daddy, I want to see you but there’s nothing I can do about it, right?”, then placing them in an urn containing her fathers’ ashes, which was still at their house because there were not enough spots for graves. Her message for her father sank into my mind.