The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Things Left Behind

Moving collection of images at Life magazine of things left behind in the Japanese tsunami.

I didn’t take many images of these items like the one above. I should have of course but somehow it felt voyeuristic. Houses were upturned, ripped opened and even upside down in many of the towns and villages we visited and I could easily find among them the remains of people’s lives now abandoned  or lost. But these scraps of life stuck in the mud, washed far from their owners, seems even sadder than the broken windows of mud filled rooms I peered inside. Of course children’s toys pull at heartstrings and this image is more than a cliche, but my sons love such heroes and it is one I had to take. I saw no ultraman toys and think it would have made me cry if I had. I did see telephones, the name and number written there on the dial, I saw a toy kangaroo, the same as one my eldest son has, and that made me pause a while. I saw photos, purses, letters and books. I saw ornaments, mementoes of  happier times in Hawaii or elsewhere just as the Life gallery above shows.

The most powerful thing I saw however was some pornography, imported and unpixalated, blond-haired centre-spreads now mud soaked and useless. It was funny almost but such remnants bring to life the people who will haunt these places for a long time yet. Even as survivors picked through the mud to salvage any thing from their time before the tsunami hit it struck me that this magazine was someone’s hidden treasure; a young man perhaps whose secret is still safe, his anonymity preserved in the detritus of the valley where is magazine sits now with the pictures running and the paper decaying. The sign of a life full of hormones and hopes. Where he lived I don’t know. If he still lives, I don’t know.

More images of the 2011 Tohoku tsunami at my archive site here:



8 responses

  1. Now it’s clear to me why you went and not me.
    I wouldn’t have been able to resist the picture.
    Once again I understand you are a better man than I.
    Thanks for being sensitive and professional in the best sense of the word damon.

    March 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

  2. Moonwire

    Seen and read some really powerful images and words on your blog. This one is no exception. Without meaning to sound cliche about it, there’s a beautiful sensitivity to your work.

    And Uchujin… you will always be one fine bastard 🙂

    March 22, 2011 at 9:57 pm

  3. Thanks guys

    March 22, 2011 at 10:13 pm

  4. Miyu Oya

    these photos by American photographer Max Hodges moved me to tears,

    March 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm

  5. Agreed, Max’s pictures are a powerful set. Looking to head back there if anyone knows a way with a journalist etc.

    March 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm

  6. Tomo

    I was wondering if you and your family were safe although there was no major damage by the earthquake in Tokyo. But I am sure you felt truly trembling during the striking moment. In this pic, the toy mask for a child depicts many stories which I guess you can tell thanks to your children. Anyway, I wish very good luck with you and your family. Speak soon,


    March 23, 2011 at 5:43 am

  7. Tomo san Good to hear from you. Where are you these days? I really felt the quake, must have been much scarier farther north. The tsunami has wreaked havoc though. A terrible event all round. Hope you and yours are all safe and well after this. Talk soon. Damon

    March 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm

  8. Tomo

    I’m still in London. I’ll be back to Japan this summer so let’s meet up then. Keep calm and carry on.


    March 27, 2011 at 7:25 pm

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