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Fukushima Project (2011-ongoing)
Since the triple disasters of March 11, 2011, I have been visiting Fukushima and created 4 series and 1 video.  
大震災から10年を迎えた原発立地町の福島県大熊町。
残されたものたちがやがて語り始めた幸福の記憶—。
 
Ten years after the disaster, while taking photographs of Okuma-machi in Fukushima prefecture, where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is located, I began to hear tender voices, speaking of bygone, happy days…。
記憶の方舟 / Mementos of Happiness (2022) 

 2019年の夏から1年あまりにわたり福島県の大熊町を撮ってきました。大熊町は福島第一原子力発電所の1号機から4号機の所在地であり、2011年の原子力発電所の事故により、立ち入りはなおも厳しく規制されています。

 このように外からは見えにくい状況の中で、除染や放射性廃棄物関連施設の建設のためにかつての町は壊されつつあります。その一方、保育園、小学校、中学校、高齢者施設、個人のお宅などでは、まるで神隠しにあったかのように、その直前まで人がいた痕跡が10年近くの時を経てまだそのままに残されているところがあります。

 そういった場所に身をおいて、私は当初、ただ気圧されていました。「不条理」という言葉が繰り返し頭に浮かびます。訪れられることもまれになった場所に残されたものたちから、その理由を厳しく問われているようでした。答えられるはずもなく、私はただ、見たという事実を自分に課すために写真を撮りました。

 それでも、何度か訪れるうちに、そのものたちから向けられる目は少しずつやわらかくなっていきました。撮る側から壁を超えて撮られる側に迎えてもらえた気がします。伝達者の役割を意識するようになった私に、なじみになったものたちが徐々に語り始めたのは、幸福の記憶でした。

 大熊のことに触れようとすると、さまざまな事情が重層的に絡み合います。目を向けなければならない問題はたくさんあります。それでも、どんな形であれ、人が不条理に直面した時、乗り越える力になってくれるものがあるとしたら、 小さな幸福の記憶のかけらが、そのはじまりになってくれるのではないか — 訥々と紡がれる言葉を聞きながら、私は祈るように、そう信じたいと思いました。

 プリントは、千年以上の歴史を持つ福島県の手漉き和紙、上川崎和紙に乳剤を塗布して行っています。産地である二本松市では、職人さんが自らの土地で楮を育て、伝統の手法で紙漉きを続けています。土地のぬくもりをたたえる生成色の紙に支えられて、大熊の記憶はやわらかく立ち上るようです。同じネガでもプリントはその都度違うものになり、それは人の数だけ思い出があることを示しているようでもありました。

For over a year, starting in the summer of 2019, I took photographs of Okuma-machi, a town in Fukushima Prefecture. Okuma is where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is located. After the enormous earthquake/tsunami disaster of March 11th, 2011, the town was completely evacuated; since then, for most people, entry to the town is strictly prohibited. Fortunately, a personal connection permitted me to enter the area in my capacity as a photographer.

In such a totally shut-down situation, the town is gradually, continually being destroyed due to decontamination procedures and the construction of radioactive waste treatment facilities. However, there still exist many areas where everything is left just as it was ten years ago. In these places, it can seem as if the people were suddenly spirited away, with vital belongings left untouched. Visiting the kindergarten, the elementary school, the junior high school, the care home for the elderly, private houses, and so on, I could clearly see how their daily lives were up until that sudden, complete evacuation. 

The word "baffling" often came to my mind. I felt as if the possessions that were randomly left behind, such as small futons for children, school bags, and family photos, cried out for some kind of explanation. I could not find any answers in my mind - so I simply took many photographs, to prove to myself that I had seen these abandoned objects. 

However, as I continued to revisit Okuma-machi, things started to feel somehow different. I thought I began to hear tender voices, speaking of bygone, happy days. On sensing these benevolent voices, I felt somehow that I had crossed a border and joined  them on their side, transforming myself from someone who takes photographs to a person or object to be photographed. At that point, I stopped being an observer or auteur, and became an interpreter or transmitter.

When I talk about the tragedy of Okuma, I have complex, sometimes contradictory feelings, which are unavoidable, and sometimes difficult to express. But when I try to look deeply into my heart, I find that what I really want to share is this: when a person is confronted with a baffling event, in whatever way, even the smallest happy memories will provide the strength to overcome it and find peace.

To create these works, I used Kamikawasaki washi, hand-screened Japanese paper which has been manufactured for over 1000 years in Nihonmatsu in Fukushima prefecture.  The craftspeople there still grow kozo (paper mulberry) plants in the fields, for the purpose of making paper according to traditional methods. I applied photographic emulsion to this paper, and printed the images in my own darkroom. From the warm-toned ecru-coloured paper imbued with the organic energy of its source, the memories of the land seemed to arise gently and naturally. Even when printing and reprinting the same negative, I achieved a different result each time, which may indicate that the memories held in the paper are as numerous as the people who lived in the area.

以下の画像をクリックして、拡大写真とキャプションをご覧ください。 / Click to enlarge and read description. 

Memory of the Land, Prayers in the Wind (Movie, 2018) 
(Collaborative project with Masaru Nakajima)

 

This is a slide-show movie I created in collaboration with Masaru Nakajima.

 

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, I have been taking photographs of Fukushima. From within a wide area affected by the disasters, I focused on Fukushima, for the prefecture was literally hit by triple disasters, namely earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant accidents. The aftermath is not simple and the way to reconstruction is not straightforward. Feelings of the residents are also complicated from loss of their beloved people and houses and other properties, as well as from loss of the land and sea, on which they depended their living as farmers and fishermen. But people had to continue to live. Though surrounded by desperate situations, they struggled between hope and fear.

 

Inspired by my photographs, Masaru Nakajima, an experienced composer working mainly in TV field, offered a proposal for collaboration. I was also moved by his music and we clicked as soon as we started to talk about what we could do together. Masaru went to Fukushima by himself for field recording and thereby enriched his imagination. He also asked a local singer to sing traditional songs, which are featured in this movie.  He felt as if he had recorded memories of the land and prayers in the wind, a phrase which has become the title of the movie. Whatever happens, the land keeps memories and the wind brings prayers. This happens all over the world.  

 

“Memory of the Land, Prayers in the Wind” was thus born.  As a work flow, Masaru created a fabulous piece of music of  about 10 minutes and then I selected images and made a slide show.  I used 55 images in total.   We regard this movie as a narrative brought to life through music and photography. 

In SIlence and In Sorrow
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Minami-souma City, 2014. People used to come through fields and a small pine tree forest and up and down these stairways and reached the beach. Now it is hard even to climb up onto the first step, and after few more steps, I am already at a loss.

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Iitate Village, 2013. The village is located about 40 km northwest of the exploded nuclear power plant, but the radioactive particles were carried by wind and fell all over the village. All the villagers had to evacuate and they are still living in temporary houses.

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Namie Town, 2013. Even after 2 years had passed, the ship remained ashore, tilting and heading for mountains. It is not a surprise that debris clearing work was not started, for this is within 10 km from the exploded nuclear power plant.

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Namie Town, 2014. When people had to evacuate, animals were left behind. The owners expected that they would come back soon, but they could not (and still cannot), and the cattle starved to dearth. After being exposed to radiation inside and out, they are now returning to the soil without any voice, and what is rejected by the nature remains there.

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Naraha Town, 2013. Sunflowers with fairly strange shapes. A local resident (an evacuee who came to visit his ancestors' grave) approached me and said that this had not been found before, indicating there might be an influence from the nuclear power plant accident. In fact, scientists have found some abnormalities in plants and insects.

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Minami-souma City, 2013. This used to be the busiest shopping street in the town. Cheerful music for crime prevention sounded particularly loud.

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Namie Town, 2013. About 10 km from the exploded nuclear power station. Also affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

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Naraha Town, 2014. When I started to visit the coastal areas of Fukushima, I was impressed by the fact that local religion plays a very important role in people's daily lives. Each community has its own shrine and the shrine is a symbol of the community unity and resilience. But now this shrine has lost its community to protect and just stands still.

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Minami-souma City, 2014. Water gate, broken but standing still by a former rice field. Almost covered with silver grasses.

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Futaba Town, 2014. No-go zone. 2 of the 6 reactor units are located here. As the town was a needy area, it accepted the offer from TEPCO about 50 years ago and developed since then almost totally depending on the nuclear power industry. This is the gate of the main street. The phrase says "Nuclear Power, Energy for Bright Future." This slogan was proposed by a then-10-year-old boy. He is now engaged in anti-nuclear movement.

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IItate Village, 2014. This village was known as one of the most beautiful villages at home and abroad. I just lose words to see the current sight of the village, filled with black plastic bags with contaminated wastes. I hear the land groaning without voice.

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Date City, 2014. Abandoned kaki-persimmons. This city is famous for kaki-persimmons, but the shipment is restricted. Even when they are tested and proved to be no problem, consumers hesitate to buy.

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Minami-souma City, 2014. It is getting more and more difficult to imagine what used to be here. Without anything blocking, wind blows from all directions to all directions.

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Minami-souma City, 2013. This gracefully-shaped old cherry tree seems to guard the community's cemetery on behalf of the residents who were forced to evacuate.

In Silence and In Sorrow (2015)

 

This series entitled "In Silence and In Sorrow" consists of the photographs I took in evacuation zones in 2013 and 2014. Some places are located on the coast and within several kilometers from the exploded nuclear power plant. Others are small mountainous villages, and although they are more than 40 km away from the nuclear power plant, the radioactive particles were carried by wind and fell all over them.  

 

After more than 2 years had passed, these zones had slowly but steadily fallen into ruin. In these photographs, we see things and places once beloved by people and now abandoned. I cannot stop myself from feeling the fragility of human existence and eschatological overtones as a result of human arrogance of trying to control the nature, blindly believing in their technologies.

 

I printed these photographs on Japanese traditional hand-screened paper called "Kamikawasaki-washi" from Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture. It has a history of over 1000 years, but now there are only three craftspersons. They do all the process by themselves from growing paper mulberry in their own field. I decided to use this special paper, for I expected that a certain kind of reaction might happen between the photographs of Fukushima and the paper of Fukushima. The results were more than I had expected. Every time I printed,  I got different results with a kind of improvisational nature. With this help. it seems as if the photographs were to talk by themselves.

Shinto Priests are rushing to an early morning ritual on a cold winter day.

This Shinto priest is playing the sacred drum during an annual event.

People have restarted to play the traditional lion dance. After the dance, children are told by their parents to put their heads into the mouth, for this is said to bring them long health and happiness.

These Japanese god statues were salvaged after the tidal water had ebbed away.

Young leaders are preparing to restart their traditional festival to protect the town from fires.

Local people always bow politely to the god of their community shrine.

A temporary shrine has been built after the old one was washed away. Local young women are dancing traditional maiden dance.

Local men are carrying a portable shrine to bring sacred items to be used in a ritual.

Local women are preparing their traditional new-year dishes, two kinds of soup with rice dumplings. for a community gathering.

At the end of an annual ritual, people drink sacred sake (Japanese rice wine).

Grave stones scattered by the tsunami have been collected and put together in one place. There was nothing else as far as I could see.

A lot of cows starved to death around the exploded nuclear power plant. The owners had to leave them without knowing how long they had to evacuate. There are also many cows which were killed, for they had eaten contaminated grasses.

A car has reappeared after the tidal water had ebbed away. Flowers were decorated by somebody.

This severely-damaged goddess statue was found several kilometers away from the original place.

Girls have been practicing their local traditional dance very hard for this day. But children are also suffering a lot. The hardships which they have experienced must be too heavy to overcome.

This traditional deer dance has been handed down from generation to generation. But there are now no young people who would succeed the tradition.

A lot of families were divided. A lot of young people left the hometown for fear of radioactive influences on their kids. Old people remain, for they could not think of starting a new life in a new place.

The death rates are rising drastically, especially among the old, due to stressful situations. Many pass away in temporary shelters. The suicide rate is also rising.

Energetic young people are happy to participate in the local event again.

The God-man arching his back is over 80 years old.

When a new year begins, people burn their old good luck charms to thank their gods for protecting them throughout the past year.

Prayer in Stricken Land (2013)

 

This is the second part of my Fukushima project. I took these photos between May 2012 and April 2013. In this series entitled “Prayer in Stricken Land,” I have focused on Minami-souma City, a small seaside town located to the north of the exploded nuclear power plant. It is really a special place, for it was literally devastated by triple disasters, namely earthquakes, tsunami and nuclear crisis. People lost a lot of things from families and friends to houses and jobs. 

 

While the aftermath is still shocking, what has been more impressive to me in this stricken land has been that local people are very religious and the act of praying is rooted deeply in their life. Each community has its own shrine, which plays a core role to tie people together. This is perhaps a reason for their cooperativeness and a source for their community resilience. 

 

In particular in Minami-souma, largely due to the long stable reign throughout the medieval ages, old religious traditions and practices remain intact. So, in the second year after the disasters, remaining people have restarted them in hope for restoration. They are trying to confirm their unity to overcome the hardships. 

 

Desperate situations still continue. Praying is not simple. But people are struggling supported by one another, between hope and fear.

Lost in Fukushima
Lost in Fukushima (2012)

 

Even sea gulls stopped to gather at the fishing port hit by the highest tsunami this time. During the spring tide, sea water entered into the depth of the low land areas and fantastic fog lay thickly above them. On the other hand, in a mountainous village, where all the villagers evacuated for fear of the hazardous influences of the nuclear power plant accidents, rice fields dried up in May, although they normally shine like mirrors in this season. In summer, they were covered by grasses and no one could tell where rice fields and footpaths ought to be.

 

I heard the voices of the things lost and being lost.

 

The new year began, and in the seaside town, where recovery measures were taken particularly quickly, their remains were totally removed and vacant land spread as far as I could see and the voices still rose out of nowhere. The mountainous village, where everything was covered with snow, it seemed peaceful as if they had been just waiting for the coming of the spring, but in fact, old houses and small huts as well as sheds for animals started to show their weakness and fall into ruin, probably getting tired of waiting for their masters.

 

When we lost them, we were lost by them at the same time. We are lost.

 

The feeling of absolute emptiness between the two sides cannot be talked about together with hope for tomorrow and cannot be compensated for by anything. Trapped by this feeling, people lose any sense of gravity and time and we are just at a loss what to do and where to go.

 

In this series , I would like to look at extreme loneliness, despair and grief, from which people cannot easily escape after a catastrophic incident like Fukushima. 

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