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.
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.
ISHINOMAKI, Japan (Reuters) – The young Japanese woman clutches a beige blanket tight around her shoulders as she stares into the distance. Behind her hulks twisted metal and splintered wood left by the tsunami that devastated Ishinomaki, her hometown.
The photograph, taken by Tadashi Okubo at the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was picked up by Reuters and other agencies around the world, becoming an iconic image of the March 11 disaster that killed 20,000 people.
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.
By Yuriko Nakao
For the first blog on the “invisible snow” of Fukushima, click here.
As Japan approached the one year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, I revisited Buddhist zen monk Koyu Abe, chief priest of Joenji temple in Fukushima. I covered him six months ago when he was planting and distributing sunflower seedlings in an effort to lighten the impact of the radiation following the nuclear disaster triggered by the earthquake, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
Ever since my coverage of Abe and his family, I had kept in touch with them, checking in once in a while to see how they were doing. Despite their hardships and their stoic way of devoting themselves to the community, they were light hearted. One night, Abe called my cell phone in excitement because they had seen me on television when I was covering the world gymnastics championship.
FUKUSHIMA (Reuters) – On the snowy fringes of Japan’s Fukushima city, now notorious as a byword for nuclear crisis, Zen monk Koyu Abe offers prayers for the souls of thousands left dead or missing after the earthquake and tsunami nearly one year ago.
But away from the ceremonial drums and the incense swirling around the Joenji temple altar, Abe has undertaken another task, no less harrowing — to search out radioactive “hot spots” and clean them up, storing irradiated earth on temple grounds.
When the Fukushima nuclear power plant exploded, I was in Fukushima covering people who had evacuated from their houses near the plant, as they underwent radiation checks as authorities isolated those who had showed signs of exposure.
The disaster control center in the prefectural government hall in Fukushima city, situated about 63 km (39 miles) north-west of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, was chaotic. However, once I stepped out the building, everything around me looked the same in the city and it was difficult to comprehend what was actually happening. People in the city were walking their dogs outside and riding their bicycles on the streets, although lights were out and many places were experiencing cuts in water supplies.
FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – Sparks from burning strips of paper swirled into the hot summer sky, carrying the names of the dead above a temple in Fukushima where thousands of sunflowers have been planted to help fight the omnipresent radiation.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant some 50 km away suffered a series of core meltdowns and explosions after the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems, setting off the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
Since covering the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March, I have photographed various radiation scenes in the months that followed.
Starting with shocking scenes of people who were actually contaminated with radiation being cleansed and scenes of people being isolated into a building.
When I was first told that I would be covering the Australian Open tennis tournament, I was very excited as it is a major global sporting event and I would get to fly out from Japan where it was cold, to a hot and sunny down under.
At the same time, frankly speaking, I had a feeling of fear and worry, since I had heard scary tales about shooting the event from a photographer who had covered it multiple times. Dreadful stories of heat, the scorching sun, cameras getting too hot to function and sometimes so hot that I wouldn’t even be able to touch it. I was told that one photographer’s computer had broken because of the extreme heat, and that sometimes the photographers’ chairs at the courtside got so hot that it was unbearable.