Six and a half years ago I took this photo of an old lady peering out from under the half opened shutters of her long-closed Tokyo shop. It’s now a firm favourite of mine, and it was one of those wonderful moments when I happened to be in just the right place, at just the right time.
Then, just the other day, a similar scene presented itself. A cart was involved on this occasion, and no eye contact, but there are lovely colours, a sign and a certain level of symmetry.
For something a bit different, I recently did a video with Eyexplore who I work with. It’s 26 minutes long featuring a relaxing walk around one of my favourite neighbourhoods, with conversations covering photographic approaches, and to some extent, technique. Plus towards the end, there’s the background story to the shot I linked to above, so if you are interested, the video is here.
From the distance of Tokyo, the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown now feel like a long time ago. Similarly, tomorrow’s 10 year anniversary seems especially significant. Massive rebuilding has been undertaken, train services are running again and more of the former exclusion zone is being re-opened.
But again, that’s looking at it from the distance of Tokyo, where for most people, the only real problems during the horrors of that disaster were occasional power cuts and a shortage of certain foodstuffs. Of course there were falsehoods galore, unsubstantiated rumours spread about the danger of radiation, plus some disgracefully sensationalist headlines — a depressingly familiar pattern that we’ve once again been subjected to during the current pandemic. None of that, however, was life-threatening, or indeed especially life-changing.
The people directly affected by those events a decade ago, on the other hand, must feel very differently. I have no idea how one gets over such a thing, or indeed if it’s even possible to do so. Hopefully time really is the great healer, and in that respect, maybe, just maybe, 10 years down the line it is a little easier. I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that visiting the nuclear power plant check point and then the city of Kesennuma a full 8 months after the earthquake and tsunami hit was overwhelming to say the least. I thought I was prepared for what I would see, but I wasn’t. The sheer scale and staggering levels of destruction were simply beyond comprehension. And that was after seeing countless photos and many hours of footage. A clear indication of how impossible it really is to imagine how those caught up in it felt, and indeed still feel today.
Yet despite all that, what was almost as striking as the wreckage was the resilience of those who lived there. Lives that in an instant had been denied the certainties of the past, now seemed imbued with some sort of hope for the future — or at the very least a strong sense of getting up and getting on. Businesses were reopening, people stopped to talk and youngsters made their way to school once again. The scenery that acted as a backdrop to those stories was now very different of course, but the sense of purpose clearly remained the same. Sights that were as incongruous as they were encouraging, and humbling in the extreme.
Now, well over 9 years since I visited, and 10 years since those devastating events, the small set of images I brought back to Tokyo are filled with these memories. So for what they are worth, here they are. Documents of what I saw (and heard), but at the same time never experienced.
With the light in the spot below only like this at a certain time of year, and of course only on certain days, the temptation to keep returning is hard to resist. Then when I am there, there’s a similar temptation to wait for the next person of interest, then one more after that, and finally one last one — on loop.
Plus now there’s this one to add to the list as well.