The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Posts tagged “Earthquake

Far Beyond

…anything I’d experienced before. And far beyond the estimated inundation area warning on the road sign in the village of Otsuchi above

One year ago today the Tohoku earthquake struck at 2:46pm causing a massive tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima.

In the news a lot this week but always in our minds.

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



When the tsunami and earthquake struck the Tohoku coast on March 11th many people lost their lives and loved ones. Many that survived lost their homes and with them the memories of the lives they had lived and the people that didn’t survive. Like the wedding photo in the image above, these mementoes to that time are irreplaceable and their loss must be incredibly painful. Nothing is quite as sad as seeing these orphaned mementoes lying in the mud. The tsunami carried houses and belongs far from the places they were once cherished. There have been attempts to reunite people with these reminders of their lives before that day, but for most the Spring rains and Summer’s bleaching sun have erased those faces and happier times forever.

The people of Tohoku are strong, indeed they have been able to carry on despite destruction and loss that would defeat most but it is hard for them to start building lives again that have no foundation in the memories they have lost. Just as the images fade and run in the unclaimed photos, the faces of the lost must also be fading in the minds of those left behind; which makes any memories they make know, any photos that show those they still can love, doubly intense, important and precious.

Which is where the photographer Brian Scott Peterson comes in. Setting up Photohoku a short time ago he is regularly travelling north to give gifts of cameras and photo albums to the people trying to make new lives there. He also take his own photos of the people that survived and donates the prints so that they have the beginning of a new set of memories to carry with them into an uncertain future.

He is not exactly giving them their memories back, that is hard to do, but he is giving them some new ones and a place where they can keep them to see this time of stress, sadness and stoicism from a future that is hopefully easier and less raw than now. You might ask why they would want to record this time in their lives but it seems obvious to me. As time advances the tragedy of March 11th will fade and with it the forgetting of the events and the people that filled that time before. While looking back at their time in a refugee centre or temporary shelter may seem masochistic or taking pictures of the remains of your house may seem morbid and unhelpful to us, each of these harsher memories must have attached to it the gentler reminders of a person who was lost; even a bad memory keeps alive a good one. They will also be able to remember the troubles shared and the emotions that sprung from this time as they become unexplainable to others, and though overwhelming on occasion, these emotions will be keenly felt in the sense of togetherness that was important at that moment even as the children grow and leave home and the old people die and disappear.

Anyway it’s a good project with a generous and talented leader. A worthy cause worth supporting if you have any old cameras or can do something like webdesign, or sort out the paperwork hassles of setting up a charitable foundation within the labyrinth Japanese legal system.

Here’s the Photohoku web address again.



Stepping Stones

The power of the Tsunami made clear in Shimo Masuda near Sendai Airport. The wave must have been ten metres high to breach the sea wall the man above is standing on. It went on to rip the concrete walkway off the top; destroying these steps along the way. It then carried large parts of the walkway and the heavy sea defense blocks inland nearly a 100 metres. The destruction of this once pretty town goes on for kilometres back from the beach though. The airport however is apparently operating again which is amazing when you consider what it looked like after the tsunami. Harrowing place, so empty, quiet  and lonely. The birds singing in the combed-flat  pine trees made it clear this was once a nice place to live. This fact is disturbingly clear when you zoom all the way into street view with Google maps, the aerial shots are post-tsunami but the street view is from before and makes for a sad little digital wander.

On the ground, picking your way across the ruins and sand with the  sea crashing and sucking at the damaged shore the place now scared me. I am wary of the ocean, especially along this coast, indeed the seaside will never quite feel the same probably.

Exhausted from driving around. will write more soon.

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


Getting Out

Nuclear contamination of Tokyo’s drinking water. The Fukushima power station problem still not fully under control. The threat of more earthquakes (Biggish one as I write, does this never end????) and general misery that is enveloping the city. No wonder people wanted to leave. It is still much better here than up north where around 25, 000 people have probably died from the earthquake and tsunami and almost half a million are homeless.

Some of course are always homeless like the man in the image above sleeping in Shinjuku the other night. He can’t escape. Neither, unless the British government get suddenly and uncharacteristically generous, can I. But I fully understand those that could and did. Especially if they had kids. It maybe pretty safe here, even this contamination issue will probably seem like a storm in a teacup soon. I do not believe me staying had any bravery or foolishness to it. Just my reading of the confusing  and contradictory facts and a degree of understanding that satisfied me enough to decide it was not so dangerous here so there was little point in going. If it becomes more dangerous, rest assured  I will leave in an instant.

Yes it is better to be safe than sorry and maybe I should have gone, but I don’t have that choice, leaving would cause more difficulties for the future than I can easily deal with just now and more perhaps than any risk we currently face. If that situation were to reverse there would be no second guesses and I’d be at Narita. But those that have already left are not cowards; they are sensible and caring parents and spouses. They are also lucky that they are in a possition to be able to go or they are braver than I to take a risk with those other aspects of their lives that could be seriously complicated by going away. They are not the derogatory “fly-jin” they have been labeled. (Gai-jin or foreigners who fly away quickly)

So please stop the name calling. I stayed but I am not better than those that went. I would love to have gone even if I thought it unnecessary really I just couldn’t. If this nuclear issue gets worse, believe me, I’m outta here.

Does that make me a cowardly fly-jin?

Frankly who gives a shit?




Pleased to see there is now a wall of shame for the more sensational reporting about the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Though I prefer the humour-blunted but still cutting vitriol of Charlie Brooker‘s take on the issue here.

Basically there is no excuse for a report like this one from the Sun, not a word of which is anything like the experiences we here in Tokyo have lived through and continue to live through.

Because in truth it is not that bad here. Really! The aftershocks (262 and counting) still rattle the city occasionally and there is the worry as that wobble comes over and the windows start to creak and complain that this is the start of Tokyo’s long overdue “big one”. It has been scary, really has and this last week has not been easy on anyone but mostly now  the city is slowly getting back to normal: food and gasoline are becoming more available and though the city is still dark at night, as companies try to reduce their electricity usage, we are not starving: shelves are getting restocked; we are not killing each other for water and rice and gangs of radioactive zombies are not roaming the streets feeding on the rotting human flesh of victims of a nuclear apocalypse. In fact ordinary people have been amazing, not getting angry and trying to carry on a best they can; It is not as easy as it used to be here for sure, train services especially are disrupted making it difficult to get around but at night and weekends some people are out enjoying themselves and many others are busy throughout the week collecting donations for the people who have really suffered far far worse than anyone here in the north east.

See the images above.

It’s time to concentrate on the real problems as I said before.




Friends reunited for the first time since the Tsunami of March 11th

Image take in Ofunato on March 17th.

A long time to be without a good friend.

Very busy with more images from the 2011 Tohoku tsunami.

Talk soon