Sunday, March 11, 2012

Life goes on in the wake of 3/11

Words and Photos by shadi

Whats left of the Sea wall in Minami Sanriku

Today marks the one year anniversary of what many Japanese call" 3/11" or the last big Earthquake Tsunami that hit Japan. It was a terrible day for many and a year later the scars still linger. This blog post is about my personal journey to return to Japan and see what happen first hand. Japan is a place this Bronx born man called my second home. I wanted to talk to friends and see how they were feeling face to face.  (continued below)
The Clean up continues in Ishinomaki


One of the few remaining homes in Ishinomaki.

Car graveyard in Ishinomaki


If you read newspapers or blogs for the weeks and months that followed the earthquake it seemed as if you were reading the script of a Japanese apocalyptic anime. The stories of people being swept away and out of control nuclear reactors blowing their roofs off terrified me. I was most worried about the friends of mine that live in Tokyo. I have developed life long friendships with many people in Tokyo after traveling to work there for over 11 years. It had been almost 2 1/2 years since I had returned to Japan which was odd. I would go at least once a year or more for work and play.  I would go to Japan to disappear in the crowds and somehow hear my thoughts again. It was a place that I could walk down a street not be able to read any sign or understand any ones words and think clearly.
I had wanted to return to Japan at the peak of the disaster but I knew that I could be of no help but the photojournalist in me really wanted to go.
I had to wait for months to return until a combination of events led me plan a return. The main being MONEY!!.
It seemed as if things might be returning to a sense of normality even though reports of high radiation and contaminated food were common. Non of my Japanese friends believed the government reports of what was going on but most of them returned to Tokyo to resume a somewhat normal life. I was worried most about my friends that have little babies now and what the future would be for them living in this environment. I remember the post 9/11 New York vividly and that felt like a science fiction movie. I lived very close to the pile of smelly debris and I had to shuffle my son around that area with a particle mask for months. It became routine to look down Greenwich street and see the smoke and debris in the distance and just go about your business and walk past crying onlookers who stared teary eyed in shock. We just bought our groceries went home turned on our HEPA air filters and went on with our lives(windows closed of course).
Well I needed to see first hand what happen. I wanted to see a glimmer of hope and rebuilding. My best New York buddy Bob Geile was about to marry his Fiance Maiko in Kamakura and I didn't want to miss that. The 3/11 events put more than a dent in their plans of a full on Japanese wedding but after some delay they figured it out .
My other buddy Curtis Kulig of "Love Me" fame was doing an art show in Tokyo as well as my friend Gogy Esparza. So now I had 3 more excuses for going back.

 I arrived in Japan without a plan. I needed to get to the Sendai area within 2 weeks of my departure.  I had posted on photojournalist blogs to find a fixer or anyone to help me get to Sendai but I didn't get any response so I emailed someone I met from 60 minutes and used Facebook as a last resort.  Then I got an email from an old friend who saw my facebook post by way of Paris and told me to contact a Mr. Kurosaki from the Heartquake Project. Mr. Kurosaki heard my story of how I wanted to go to Sendai and photograph the rebuilding efforts. He went out of his way to find someone to take me to Sendai and make sure I was safe.  He introduced me to a man named Mr. Ei Sato of Tateoka Office.  He took time out of his busy schedule to escort me to Sendai on a weekend.  He barely spoke english and my Japanese is minimal but thanks to an iPhone translation app we communicated for hours with a lot of texting.  He was part of an effort to distribute books food money to people that needed it most in the effected areas. The week before he had delivered a truck load of books to children that had lost everything. His organization was making sure donated money and resources got to the victims.

We met at the train station and took the Bullet train or Shinkansen to Sendai. Its a 2 hour ride on the high speed rail but it is a totally smooth luxurious ride. At one point the ride became surreal. The intercom woke me up with a sexy voice saying " NEXT STOP FUKUSHIMA STATION". I expected the train to stop with people in radiation suits and geiger counters waiting on the platform but what I did see was a hundreds of people getting on and off like any other stop.  According to the Google maps search I did its about 49 miles to the Reactor from the town of Fukushima. Close but about a 16 hour walk away.
So we proceeded to get off a bit further at Sendai station and rent a car. We needed to drive for about an hour to the first town of MinamiSanriku which is one of the many remote coastal towns that were destroyed. The drive was a series of winding roads most of which had been rebuilt since the earthquake. When we finally arrived at the center of Minamisanriku I was in utter shock. It took me a few minutes to grasp where I was and what I was doing there. There was nothing but garbage and debris for as far as you could see. Most of it in neat piles waiting to be picked up or sorted. These were homes of thousands of people and now just piles. I was hoping to find people to talk to but they were either dead or long gone. Mostly cleanup workers and the few people I did meet were volunteers from Fukuoka which is very far from Sendai. They drove about 930 miles to make a contribution to this town. They were fixing up a kindergarden which I think was wonderful but I wasn't too sure where they were going to get the kids from since no one lived in the town anymore. Well anyways they were doing something positive so ill shut up. We explored a bit more and I found the famous sea wall that was constructed after the 1960 Tsunami that wiped out the town. They built this wall to protect the town from future Tsunami's but it was no match for the power of 3/11. The massive concrete blocks were tossed like Lego pieces as the water receded.
Massive piles of garbage had begun to fill the shore of Minamisanriku from the clean up. They separated the debris into wood, metal, concrete piles to recycle but I heard that most of the wood piles would be burned because they were too damaged from Salt and other things?
The next town we visited was much larger. It was a big commercial fishing town called Ishinomaki. This town was one of the worst hit. 29,000 people were displaced 3,000 confirmed dead and about 3,000 missing. The entire time I was there it felt like a Stephen King novel. A low lying fog sat on the town all day. All my photos had this ghostly haze. At the end of the day while walking in a field near the shore I could feel the spirits or the dead around me. There was a car graveyard in the middle of the industrial part of town that was about 4-5 football fields big, it contained thousands of cars piled 3 high stacked like bricks in every direction. Most of the cars looked salvageable but I figured the salt water did them in. By the shore there are the dozens of canneries that were destroyed but since fishing is a main source of food in Japan many new ones have popped up rapidly in the shadow of destroyed ones.
Many boats that were thrown onto land were on the dock being repaired and life was coming back to this ghost town. When I left Ishinomaki on the way out there was a debris pile that was the biggest pile I've ever seen that was right by the road out. It was about 6 stories high and went on for blocks and blocks.

What I came back to the city after thinking about what I saw was that "Life goes on" regardless of what we feel or what we hope. The trees push thru the cracks in the concrete and the grass grows over the open fields. I felt like what I saw in Minami Sanriku and Ishinomiaki was great loss but I also  saw hope. In Japan I saw friends of mine going on with their lives and moving forward to plan for a better future because in the end that's all we can really do.

Business as usual in Harajuku



New meets old at the Harajuku station

Kunici Nomura and Curtis Kulig cruising Tokyo
Photographer Keiichi Nitta doing live photo show at a fashion event-Tokyo

Shibuya Station play time




Underground Bar/Art Gallery-Tokyo


Riot Police on alert in Tokyo


Gogy Art Installation in Tokyo



Friends Reunite Curtis Kulig and Kun Nomura

Ride home from School Tokyo Japan

Birthday celebration of Hideki Kimura
at Le Baron Tokyo

Shibuya dinner with Masafumi Watanabe



Teenagers shopping in Harajuku

Ed Elms art show in Harajuku

Kun and John Tokyo



Little boy enjoying a ride in Tokyo

Octopus Balls or Takoyaki cooking  in Tokyo
Takoyaki owner John Ikeda in front of his new restaurant in Tokyo
Mr. Kurosaki in the office


Early morning umbrella sales in Harajuku Station Tokyo Japan
My fixer Ei Sato getting his fix
I thought it was funny that Fukushima University is also know as F.U.
Express to Fukushima Kids on Shinkansen bullet train


video
On the Road to Ishinomaki

Picking up rental car in Sendai



Just outside of the Fukushima prefecture

On the road to Sendai Ai and Shadi with iPhone as our translator

Never Give Apple more likely Never give up! This was the first thing I saw when I went to this decimated town of Minami-Sanriku, Sendai

Minami-Sanriku Sendai Winnie the Pooh

Minami-Sanriku Sendai Volunteer from Fukoka

Minami-Sanriku Sendai works pickup truck with inspiration graffiti

Minami Sanriku volunteers taking a break from fixing school

Volunteers drove a van 900 miles from Fukuoka to help in Minami Sanriku
In a massive pile of debris life pushes thru. Minami Sanriku



Life goes on Minami Sanriku

Plaque says " This Tsunami happen in 1960 from Chile Earthquake" -Minami Sanriku

Car graveyard in Ishinomaki


A collection of Fire Extinguishers found in Ishinomaki

A generator lights one of the few inland homes that remain in Ishinomaki 
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Boats being repaired at Ishinomaki dock

 Sign says"We can do it! Ishinomaki"
Whale meat advertisement on Fuel storage can in Ishinomaki
In Minami Sanriku this was one of the last standing buildings in the town. This is about a mile from the shore.
Self portrait in Shadi -Minami Sanriku
Debris being pulled out of the canal in Minami Sanriku as new life looks on

The remains of a Pachinko Parlor Minami Sanriku

New homes being constructed inland of Minami Sanriku
Happy Bride in Kamakura
Wedding Celebration in Kamakura
Wedding's in Kamakura