The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Return to Tsushima

Yesterday I went back to Tsushima to see how it had changed in a year. Last year my good friend, Bruce Meyer Kenny and I found this abandoned village by accident. We hadn’t been looking for it and even when we found it we did not know its name or history. Now we do of course, now we know  for example that it is highly radioactive and infamous; now we know that its hospital was the scene of troubling stupidity on the part of local officials who sent refugees from near the Daichi plant there to be looked after, leaving them to rest, for days, in radiation levels that were and still are impossibly dangerous for health.

Last year we found the speed of abandonment written photogenically in the date on newspapers outside the village store. Soon after the events of March 11th 2011 the whole village was abandoned and probably will never be inhabited again. It had been shocking a year ago. We wanted to go there again to see if it still was.

It was! Not solely for it’s decaying state or the beginnings of nature’s reclamation, which truthfully was a lot less than I had imagined. It was shocking for the fact that people had obviously been there, moved, collected, broken and stolen things. One very disturbing message was left for the owners of a house and notes and photos had also been posted to windows explaining the stories of the people no longer living there and asking any subsequent visitors to look for and care for pets left behind.

The biggest difference was the fact that a year ago we hadn’t had a Geiger counter and I remember not knowing exactly how dangerous the place was made any time outside feel reckless. What horrors were being carried on the wind were impossible to judge. This year the Geiger counter informed us incessantly of the need for us to go elsewhere. The urgency of the beeping unsettled me; the empty houses rattling in that same poisoned breeze and the over grown fields and gardens waved three metre high grasses at us in jungled whispers of contaminated chlorophyll that was simply terrifying.

I’m glad I went back though, so sad a place, so empty of all hopes of return. As the street lights came on in the dusk, lighting the way along lanes that  people will never perhaps walk for pleasure again, it was was clear to me that this is still a story that needs to be told. The Fukushima people have lost so much in these hills.

I am glad we could measure the risks we took this time however, but the harrowing message I saw and the “beep! beep! beep!” of the Geiger counter were something it took quite a few drinks to get over that night.

More stock images of nuclear contaminated areas and recovery efforts in Fukushima at my archive here.




3 responses

  1. Rob

    Hi Damon. I’d be interested to know what the levels were this time around. Did you manage to get a reading. I had a dosimeter with me last time I went inside the zone and guess what? The thing gave me higher readings back in Tokyo!

    May 5, 2012 at 9:44 pm

  2. Didn’t know you were up there again.
    Stay safe brother.
    see you when you get back for drinks and tales.

    May 5, 2012 at 10:36 pm

  3. the highest we got half way up a hill path in Tsushima was 10.17 usv which was not nice but okay for the hour or so we were there. Govt reading were officially 4.9 for the area at that time but truthfully we were reading a level of around 6 for most of the places we went. near the hospital and higher up the hill it was higher.

    May 6, 2012 at 12:06 am

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