I went back to Tohoku this past week to shoot events around the fifth anniversary of the March 11th 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Busy days visiting the radioactive fields of Fukushima and the amazingly tidied-up Ishinomaki before heading north to Kesennuma and Minami Sanriku. The last two are places I’d not been before. In 2011 I had headed down from Morioka with Daily Mirror journalist, Tom Parry, interviewing survivors in Iwate. We made it as far south as Rikuzentakata which along with Minami Sanriku were places famously wiped from existence by the tsunami and places that will forever be a shorthand for tragedy. Five years later my thoughts on reaching Rikuzentaka still affect me and seeing Minami Sanriku, the other small coastal town synonymous with the worst of that day, was moving.
It is hard to put a score to tragedy but Minami Sanriku has perhaps an unluckier tale than other places: with the names of it victims so well known and their memorials still so stark and raw even as the landscape around it changes forever.
Jin Sato, the mayor of this towns escaped to the three-story building of the town’s Crisis Management Department or Bōsai Taisaku Chōsha (in the picture above) when the earthquake struck at 2:46pm He was one of only 30 people, from a staff of 130, who managed to reach the roof as the tsunami engulfed the town a little later and only ten of those survived as the water washed over the top of the building. Two day later however he was organising the recovery of his town and set-up a headquarters for disaster control at the Bayside Arena in Miyagi. Many people in Japan hailed him as an ispiration.
The most famous hero of Minami Sanriku though was a 25 year old employee of the town’s Crisis Management Department called Miki Endo. Her job was to give disaster advice and warnings over the the town’s loud-speaker system from the Crisis Management Department’s building. These warnings, telling people what to do and where to go to escape the tsunami, are credited with saving many lives and she continued to give them even as the tsunami overwhelmed the building and killed her.
There was talk that the steel frame, that is all that remains of the building, would be demolished. Huge stepped islands of brown earth rise across the valley now, like Mexican jungle pyramids. These earthworks are raising the town up higher, safer from any future tsunami. The Crisis Management Department building stands these days in a valley of dust with the earth reaching skywards behind it and diggers and cranes drone busily above. But looking at that red metal frame I saw only its missing walls; the doors through which 120 people left this world and noticed the fragility of the building’s thin tower of aerials where ten others clung desperately to stop themselves getting swept away. I hope they keep the building the way it is as a both a reminder of the power of nature and the bravery of people like Endo San.
Had a photo shoot down in Matsuyama in Shikoku last Thursday. Took the opportunity afforded by someone else paying for the flights to spend a couple of extra days there trying to get a feel for the Eighty-eight temple pilgrimage that has been a photo ambition for years.
Unfortunately the weather didn’t want to help me so much and my explorations ended-up being quite limited. You really need more time, and a car, to truly get a feel of the beautiful scenery the pilgrims walk through on the 1,200 kilometre long pilgrimage route.
Well not many pilgrims walk the route these days, and certainly not in rainy season, but did see a few come through the very beautiful Ishite Temple which is just outside Matasuyama. By far the biggest group I saw though were on a bus tour doing the whole pilgrimage in a week.
I loved my time in Shikoku though and would love to get back and spend more time photographing the pilgrims as they tramp between the temples. Not in rainy season though next time.
A quick shot of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, as he left the Hodogaya Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery near Yokohama today. He had just laid a wreath to commemorate the war dead that are buried there on the second morning of His four day visit to Japan. It appears to be a pretty packed schedule with visits to Tohoku and many other places squeezed into theweekend before he leaves for China on Sunday.
Quite a crowd had gathered for a glimpse of the British Prince, who is travelling without his wife, Kate Middleton, and he seemed genuinely happy to wave to them as he was driven out of the cemetery gates. Mostly old ladies they waved back and shouted out, “O-uji sama! loudly” I got pushed around quite a bit too as they struggled and pushed forward to get their shots.
The Palace mucked-up my accreditation with my agency in the UK so I was unable get in closer and take more sellable shots unfortunately . Instead I had to resort to looking for crowds and his interaction with the locals. He didn’t do a walk around this morning so this car snap was the best I could get. I’ll be papping him again tomorrow though.
Been incredibly busy the last week or so. Managed to grab a quick evening shot of Tokyo Skytree while out shooting on Monday.
I like this shot as it was taken from near Edogawa where there are many older, traditional houses and buildings which provide some nice foreground for this iconic, modern addition to the Tokyo skyline
Will be posting back soon.
Around 7,000 people turned out yesterday afternoon to protest the construction of a new United States military base at Henoko in Okinawa.
The protest started at 2pm and ended by forming a human chain around the National Diet Building.
The US Military have a long and troubled history in Okinawa. While it is true the islands’ economy relies heavily upon the presence of 28 military camps and other facilities, most locals would rather they were not there. Plans to move the main US Marine airbase away from the suburban areas in Futenma to the much less developed Henoko, 50 kilometres north, are meeting large and very angry protests. The are chosen for the new base is a coastal area with tourist-valuable coral reefs. It is also a sanctuary for the rare dugong marine mammal. Of course until Shinzo Abe came back to power at the end of 2012, the people of Okinawa had been led to believe that the Americans would be moved out of the prefecture all together to somewhere like Guam. But at the end of 2013 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then Governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima signed the agreement to build the new US base at Henoko and the resistance started.
Protest have set up a camp outside the proposed site, they take to the sea in canoes and boats to protest the construction and are often met with aggressive and violent suppression at the hands of security by the police and coastguard.
Taking the fight to the heart of the government is a logical step. I doubt Shinzo Abe will listen however.
I went along to take a few photos, as I tend to do at most protests in Tokyo. This one was little different however as I had my two sons with me. A new and eye-opening experience for them for sure (and they were very good too because I didn’t even lose them once in the crowds). This meant, of course, that I couldn’t get quite as deep in among the protestors as usual. Though we did wiggle our way into the main speaking area where many well-known and passionate activists rallied the crowds including Catherine “Jane” Fisher, Mizuho Fukushima and the man in the bottom image, journalist, Satoshi Kamata.
A good day in the end.
More images of the Anti Henoko Base Protest in Tokyo at my archive here:
Got an hour to myself, as my boys went out for Christmas events, so took a quick walk to the nearby train-yard to photograph workmen and women cleaning and fixing the trains. Is always quite interesting here and the light was fantastic.
These might be the last photos I take this year so Happy New Year to all my readers!