The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter


Just got back from the coast in Iwate that was hit by the tsunami on March 11th. A truly humbling experience in many senses. As I mentioned in the previous post, the sheer stubbornness of the people there to carry on struggling to build hope upon the life many have had entirely washed away is amazing. Not least among the heroic people we met was the woman above whose name is Itoko Kanagawa.

Originally from Hiroshima, where she survived the atomic bombing, she was welcoming of our intrusive questions and requests for pictures. Perhaps it helped to share the shock around a bit to lessen it maybe; to make it possible for her to move on past the destruction she so lightly trotted through with a purpose to her step that belied her 80 years of age and the unknowable destination of all that energy in the ruins of the town below. LIke before perhaps, after the atomic bombing of her youth, she was already striding towards the next stage of her more than eventful life.

When I got there many western journalists had already left the area and she seemed surprised to see us. She spoke a lot of the day the earthquake hit and she spoke at a speed and in a dialect that I was barely able to keep up with about her escape: how she drove up into the hills behind the town of Ofunato as the tsunami leveled all below her; after first risking her own life to pick up her husband from the harbour. She was a good driver she said and she smiled as she said it, laughed even at the one small victory in her life that day.  She was amazing, she has nothing left of her 80 years, all mementoes to the time before are gone and yet she is already thinking  of the future. As I took her picture she worried that she had no make up on but then it seemed to strike her that she had no make up anywhere anymore. But she smiled as she proudly faced the camera and her honest and indefatigable spirit at that moment made me think she was beautiful enough already.

Perhaps so did she.

Here’s the article in the Daily Mirror about Kanagawa San with another of my pics of this wonderful lady.




7 responses

  1. ishu

    A truly touching, excellent post about a remarkable lady. Thanks for sharing.

    March 19, 2011 at 12:23 am

  2. Good on you for heading up there and helping to make sense of the tragedy rather than adding to the confusion. The photo and story are great and don’t get me wrong, work better (in my opinion) than the story in the Daily Mirror. Probably because I prefer a more personal approach and you have delivered it here.

    March 19, 2011 at 1:19 am

  3. Thank you Ishu and Manny. She was someone that has made it less easy to generalize about the Japanese. In Tokyo it is easy to be negative but everyone up there is showing a strength of will that is heartbreaking as much as it is necessary. Manny, the journalist is a sensitive, open and interesting man who i got on really well with. He’s a professional and does his job. Is job is to work for a tabloid unfortunately but I think he tries his best to get a higher level of journalism into his pieces. Certainly less manipulative than some reports I’ve seen in such papers.

    March 19, 2011 at 6:03 am

  4. I agree with Manny that the personal approach here makes all the difference.
    Great work brother.
    Looking forward to seeing more.

    March 19, 2011 at 8:48 am

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