Photographers' Blog

Clinging to life in a tsunami zone

By Toru Hanai

Choufuku Ishisone of Miyako, Iwate prefecture, owns a convenience store.

On March 11, 2011, Ishisone was driving to see his store after checking on his house following the earthquake and saw a black tsunami wave roar over a seawall. He made a U-turn, but the tsunami struck him from multiple directions, sending his car afloat. The engine stopped. He jumped out of the car in a hurry but lost his footing in the tsunami and was swallowed up in the thick, black water.

He managed to avoid cars, ships and other debris carried by the tsunami but the water level continued to rise steadily. Grabbing onto a power line pole as he was swept past, he scrambled up so desperately that he was about five meters high before he knew it.

“I want to be saved! That one feeling kept me climbing,” he said. “Then I thought I had to get off the pole somehow, but the water didn’t go down, which was very irritating.”

It began to snow, chilling Ishisone, whose clothes were wet. As some three hours passed and it grew dark with no signs of rescue, Ishisone climbed down the pole and swam to a city office annex building. Finally he thought, “I’m safe.”

“The real lesson is that if there is an earthquake, you must head for high ground without hesitation,” he concluded.

One year from that day

By Toru Hanai

It will soon be one year from that day – March 11, 2011.

Greetings among friends who meet after a long absence begins with, “Where and what were you doing on March 11?”

On March 11, 2011, I was photographing Prime Minister Naoto Kan during a committee session at the Parliament building in Tokyo.

At 2:46 p.m. the world started to shake really slowly.

I felt fear as the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck, not only because of the intensity of the shaking but also the duration of it.

Healing power of photography

By Yuriko Nakao

The 3.11 Portrait Project brings smiles to the victims of the triple-whammy disaster through the power of the photograph

After the magnitude 9.0 earthquake rocked Japan in March 11 last year, as a photographer for a newswire service, I had many chances to document reality, which was often depressing and shocking. However, at times, I would feel rewarded when my work brought positive results by inviting support and compassion from around the world to those who were suffering. However, still, the support was often not directed specifically to the person pictured in my shots, which often made me feel helpless.

Japanese photographer Nobuyuki Kobayashi, 42, had experienced a similar feeling. His main field of photography was mostly to shoot commercial photos but past assignments included regions in conflict, and disasters such as the earthquake which hit off the coast of Sumatra, the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the attacks on 9/11. As what many Japanese photographers did after Japan experienced the worst catastrophe since World War Two, Kobayashi went up north to take photographs after his friend in Iwate prefecture asked him to. He shot pictures of the disaster and rubble in northeastern Japan, but came to question whether that was the role he should play.

A fisherman’s sad tale

By Yuriko Nakao

Seaweed grower Takaaki Watanabe took to the sea in his boat before the massive tsunami roared into the northeastern Japanese town of Minamisanriku, becoming one of a lucky few to save the vessel essential for their livelihood.

But back on shore the raging waters of March 11 swept away his wife, his mother and his house, built on land in his family for 13 generations, though his three teenaged daughters managed to survive.

“At that time, I wasn’t sure whether I could actually resume the cultivation (farming seaweed, scallops and oysters). I had no way of knowing my future,” he said recently.

With or without you

By Yuriko Nakao

One photo of a young woman, wrapped in a beige blanket and standing in front of a pile of debris, became one of the iconic images right after Japan’s massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which triggered huge tsunamis that devastated a wide swathe of northern Japan.

Reuters, along with other major agencies, picked up the photograph run by Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, shot by Tadashi Okubo, a photographer with the paper. The image was published extensively around the world, and many people came to know her as the woman wrapped in a blanket.


(Yomiuri Shimbun)

Her name is Yuko Sugimoto. She is 29 and the mother of a five-year-old boy and was born and raised in Ishinomaki, where the photograph was taken. Around 3,800 people perished in Ishinomaki alone, the highest death toll for any individual city.

Flirt

Photographer Damir Sagolj won second place in the multimedia story section of the POYi awards for the following piece on the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.

View more of Damir’s photographs from Japan here.

Tragedy in Fukushima: when can we go back to home again?

After covering myself from head to toe in protective clothing in the hope of protecting me from radiation, I went to accompany evacuees who were temporarily allowed to visit their homes in the 20 km no-entry zone surrounding the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, a place now notorious for its radiation leaks.

My destination was Okuma town where the whole population of about 11,000 had been evacuated since last year’s earthquake. The town is still afflicted with high levels of invisible radiation.

In the evacuees’ memories, the town was a beautiful rural town with a close-knit community and the only unusual thing was that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was located close by.

Have you seen this Fukushima child?

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.

Fukushima’s invisible fear

By Issei Kato

These days, a mask, protective clothing and radiation counter have all become a usual part of reporting trips, as essential as a camera, lenses and a laptop. Soon, this situation will have gone on for a full year.

The 20 km (12 mile) zone around Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is now a virtual ghost town after being evacuated of residents due to radiation. I asked a friend, who was forced by the disaster to leave the area and has been searching for a way to resume work, for help, and was able to enter the area where he used to live.

The massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forced residents around the plant to flee, leaving behind in many cases their household belongings or pets. The triple whammy is still forcing more than 150,000 people from Fukushima prefecture to take refuge, nearly half of them from the no-go zone.

Learning to smile again

By Toru Hanai

Six months after Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami, I went back to visit six-year-old Wakana Kumagai who lost her father in the disasters in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi prefecture.

I photographed Wakana when she visited her father’s temporary grave at a mass burial site in Higashi-Matsushima on April 21, after attending an entrance ceremony at her elementary school. I was struck by how positive and optimistic Wakana behaved.

Five months later, Wakana bowed her head in prayer with her mother Yoshiko and brother Koki at the exact spot where the car of their late father Kazuyuki was found. The family crouched in prayer at 2:46 p.m. as Japan marked exactly six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

  • Editors & Key Contributors