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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

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.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid