News / Asia

    Photographer Returns to Japan to Document Disaster’s Aftermath

    Scene in Sendai, Japan
    Scene in Sendai, Japan

    The death count has passed 14,000 from the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan on March 11. Nearly as many people remain missing. As recovery efforts continue, a Los Angeles photographer who has documented Japan in books and articles returned to see how life has changed in the stricken region.

    Mark Edward Harris has traveled to Japan many times to photograph its sights, including its famous hot springs. He paid a visit to the scenic Tohoku area of northeast Japan last year, four months before the area experienced a magnitude 9 earthquake and devastating tsunami.

    Harris wanted to go back, saying that he felt an obligation to tell the people’s story, so he contacted a friend, Yoshi Ohkuma, who works for the Japan Travel Bureau. Ohkuma had guided him on the previous trip to northern Japan.

    "And at first he said, 'Oh don’t come. Now is not a good time, with the devastation and all.' And then he reflected upon it, and I got an email soon after that saying, 'This is exactly the right time, and I want to be part of it. And I won’t do it as official work, because it’s not tourism, but it’s important to tell the story,'" he said.

    The two men drove to the stricken area in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. One month after the disaster, the search for survivors had ended. The rescue teams were gone, replaced by crews with cadaver-sniffing dogs who continue to search for bodies in the rubble.

    Harris says he saw stark contrasts.

    "You go up a few feet in elevation, and all of a sudden, everything looks fine. But then you go over a hill and you descend again into the next town, and that’s been obliterated. And the distance of just driving, and we drove many, many miles down the coast, of this continuous theme of devastation, driving up, everything looks fine, and then right back down into another town," he said.

    A man walks past a huge ship that breached a seawall in Kamaichi, Japan
    A man walks past a huge ship that breached a seawall in Kamaichi, Japan

    He says the scenes in the stricken towns were striking. In Otsuchi, for example, a cruise ship sits atop a building, as local people try to return to normal life.  "And then in a place called Kamaichi, a huge ship breached the sea wall, but then you have people walking in the foreground trying to go about their daily business best they can. Yet you have this very surreal scene behind them of this ship hanging over," he said.

    He says that children’s stuffed animals were everywhere, and there was other evidence of life that for many had suddenly ended.

    "There was a pachinko parlor/casino [where] there was money, these coins, still in the trays where people had been playing and all of a sudden, had to evacuate, and the place just came apart," he said.

    He says people were anxious to tell their stories. In the suburbs outside Sendai, a survivor named Chie took them to a kindergarten that served as a community refuge in what should have been a safe zone.

    Japanese nursery school, near Sendai
    Japanese nursery school, near Sendai

    "The people that went to this one building on the second floor were fine, but when the tsunami came in much further than expected ..- this really was inland ..- it obliterated the people and building on the first floor. And so she took us over to that. She wanted to share that. And it was very sad to go into this kindergarten where there was a sign hanging saying, congratulations on graduating, and it was just a scene of carnage there," he said.

    Harris says that both he and his friend from the travel bureau were moved by the devastation, unlike any that Japan has experienced since World War II.

    "It was such a surreal scene, and Yoshi had commented that this is what it must have been like to walk through Hiroshima after August 6, 1945," he said.

    Harris says it was also clear that the space of less than a meter could make the difference between life and death. Water swept through one building up to the fourth floor. Its fifth floor was untouched.

    The photographer wrote in an earlier book on Japanese hot springs that the country’s way of life and scenic natural beauty are made possible by its location on the so-called Ring of Fire, the Pacific region known for mountains and volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. He says the Japanese have rebounded from past disasters, and despite the devastation, those he spoke with say it will rebound again this time.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora