Archives for : tsunami

Tsunami 6 months after 2 (before/after photos)

Tsunami survivors 6 months on

In yesterday’s Guardian they ran the 6-month follow-up to the interviews and photos of the 7 survivors that Justin McCurry interviewed back in April. The interactive can be found here while a feature focusing on two of the survivors can be found here. More really excellent work from Justin.

Some of the original photos of these survivors can be seen in the slideshow below

Suicide in Tohoku

 

Story published in Japan Times about suicides resulting from the Tohoku disasters. Online version can be found here

This was a tough topic to cover. I found it particularly difficult because the so-called “kokoro no care” groups that are apparently providing counseling support for survivors simply refused to talk (I tried arranging interviews with groups from Osaka, Kita Kyushu, Akita and Aomori). At first I thought this was purely because of the delicate nature of the subject, but after talking with a psychiatrist back in Tokyo about this I was left with a different impression. The care groups simply have little to say because they are terribly underused, the doctor suggested.

The reason may be simple. Having spent my first few Japan years in the Tohoku region I am aware of the stoic (some, like Nobel novelist Natsume Soseki, even say stubborn) nature of  the people there, many of whom would not want to share their personal troubles with others — outsiders, especially. What’s more, I am told by Japanese doctors/psychiatrists and other experts that psychiatric care here is not as developed as in some countries in the West. “The national government pours millions into tackling Japan’s perennial suicide problem, but seems to fail to actually look at the roots of that problem,” said one.

Depression is a huge suicide trigger in Japan — the national police statistics show that. But there seems to be little effort made to tackle the issue at that level. So, instead of highly trained psychiatrists (of which there are few) we have money thrown at municipalities who spend it on “don’t do it” poster campaigns.

Another anecdote connected with this: For some years I have been documenting Japan’s notorious suicide forest (photos relating to this here), where dozens of Japanese go to kill themselves each year. Of the original measures considered to buck this trend, one of the more seriously considered ones was ….. to build a wall around the forest.

I think that just about sums it up really. Ok, so it didn’t come to fruition, but the message was pretty clear. Build a wall, and people won’t come to OUR prefecture to kill themselves. Fortunately we have some individuals who think differently than the powers in government. Hence the notices at the entrances to the forest asking people to think twice. And below a number to call to talk over your troubles.

The suicide issue here bothers me, not because the numbers are so high, but because nobody really seems to care. One suicide “expert” once asked me: “Don’t you think these people have a right to take there own life?” My answer: “Of course. But wouldn’t it be nice if they also had the right to choose to get help first?”

My six pen’orth for the day …

 

 

3 months on

11 June, 2011: Keiko Komabayashi, 82, bows in prayer as her community observes a minute's silence in commemoration of those who lost their lives 3 months before on March 11

Back up in Tohoku researching a couple of stories and continuing photo projects. June 11 marked the 3-month anniversary of the quake and tsunamis and I visited Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture to see how the day would be marked there. While many places along the way, such as Otsuchi, were considerably improved, Kamaishi seems to have changed little this past couple of months.

A man walks past a battered bath house in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, on 11 June. Photos: Robert Gilhooly

Residents — most of them elderly — at one shelter were particularly aggrieved about the continued lack of some lifeline services. It seems that there is still no running water and in some parts of town electricity and or lighting. I spoke with Mrs Komabayashi (pictured) and she said she would be moving into a temporary accommodation “soon” though she didn’t seem so delighted as she is on her own. The city official I spoke with said they were preparing special temporary housing for elderly people — especially those without family. However, the speed, or lack of, at which the temporary facilities are being built and made available  is certainly a cause of some dissatisfaction among residents. The official explains it by saying that unlike in some places where the prefectural government is charged with the recovery effort, in Kamaishi (and Ofunato) it’s the city that must clean up the mess and rebuild.

Before and after (well, after and even more after really)

A few photos from this series documenting the progress in the recovery operations. Some places are evidently more advanced in their cleanup efforts that others.

Survivors tales

Above slideshow shows some of the survivors of the quake and tsunamis in the Tohoku region of Japan. The Guardian’s Justin McCurry put together a collection of short stories of some of these survivors which was used by the paper as a two-page spread in the G2 section.

Black Cat delivery

A staffer for Kurineko (Black Cat) express delivery service delivers a parcel to a home in the tsunami-trashed seaside town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on  7 April 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A staffer for Yamato "Kuroneko" (Black Cat) express delivery service delivers a parcel to a home in the tsunami-trashed seaside town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on 7 April 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Came back up to Iwate Prefecture last week, but have since struggled with finding accommodation, or reception for both cell

A man cycles past a cargo ship in Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, Japan on  4 April 20011.

Photo: Robert Gilhooly

phones and internet. Yet, despite all that, things seem to be moving along. In Kamishi I see electrical workers erecting utility poles, while nearby a man cycles through the driving snow past a massive cargo ship that has made  a rare foray on land. On that same day electricity was restored to several places along the coast.

Meanwhile, in Rikuzentakata, also in Iwate Prefecture, I come across a superbly kept shelter inside a junior high school. Inside on a notice board there is a plan of the shelter which includes among the pristine, wood-paneled classrooms a dentist, a room for washing clothes, another for drying them, a room for the elderly, a room for those suffering from influenza, a study room for elementary and junior high school children …

But perhaps the biggest sign of improvement came  at the end of a long and very dusty day, when in the far east of the city I saw a Kuroneko (Black Cat) delivery staffer hauling a large box of frozen goods on his shoulder, passing by the wreckage of a neighborhood and delivering the goods, which had been set from central Japan, to the “doorstep” of a refugee.

Fukushima 50

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 is given a radiation check prior to boarding the Kaiwomaru in the dock at Onahama Port, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture on  23 March 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 is given a radiation check prior to boarding the Kaiwo Maru at a dock in Fukushima Prefecture on 23 March 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Met members of the so-called Fukushima 50, the men charged with trying to prevent further complications at the TEPCO nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. They were all checked for radiation, work clothes and a few other belongings in tightly fastened plastic bags. Some of them looked absolutely exhausted.

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 boards the Kaiwomaru at a dock in Fukushima Prefecture on  23 March 20011.   Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

A member of the so-called Fukushima 50 boards the Kaiwomaru at a dock in Fukushima Prefecture on 23 March 20011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

The ones who were willing to talk said it was pretty scary inside the plants where they worked, but were totally focused on completing their “mission.” Many had been in touch with family members, who, they admitted, were concerned about their safety. “I can’t wait to see them,” said one of the crew.

A few of them described the duties with which they were charged, such as laying cables. The ones I met are  currently staying on a 4-mast sailing boat, a training vessel that was bound for Honolulu before being requisitioned by the government on the day of the quake. Staff aboard the ship said the tone onboard was  low-key and occasionally somber. “They are very quiet” said the vessels chief commanding officer, adding that all those onboard had turned down offers of beer. However, while some declined to talk or be photographed others offered a smile and a v-sign as they boarded the boat. Some photos of the men who are valiantly battling at the nuclear power plant can be found here

“I’ll search until I find her”

Toshiaki Watanabe and his son Kenichi search through the rubble for his wife and Mother in Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Toshiaki Watanabe and his son Kenichi search through the rubble for his wife and Mother in Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

After a couple of days recuperating back in Tokyo, drove back up to Sendai yesterday and spent today going around the

A man looks out to see after spending the day looking for members of his family mega-tsunami that hit Yoriiso Village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Oshika Peninsula. This has long been one of my favorite parts of Japan — I first came up here about 15 years ago to do a story about depopulation and will never forget an incredible journey to Kinkazan, an island that lies just off the southern tip of the peninsula a couple of years later. It all bares little resemblance now, of course, with entire villages having being swept away by the tsunamis that raged through these parts on March 11. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency this whole peninsula shifted a massive 5.3 meters to the southeast after the quake and tsunamis and sunk about 1.2 meters. Local residents that I met said that the water levels were still high, and that many of the smaller villages would likely never by habitable again.

Down on the waterfront at Yoriiso, a small fishing and marine product processing community, I came across a man and his son who were scouring the debris and skeletal processing buildings for relatives still missing. Toshiaki Watanabe told me they had been down there every day with other friends and relatives to search for his son Kenichi’s mother and grandmother — his wife and mother.

A photo of a kimono-clad woman floats next to a tire in the bay at Imeshi village on the Oshika Peninsula, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 19 March, 2011.  Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

So far they had come across four bodies, but they were not the ones of their loved ones. Though obviously grief stricken, Toshiaki seemed relatively calm, even chatty, but his son was obviously in some distress. He had been in Fukushima at the time, where he worked at a nuclear facility in Soma, while his father had been in Aomori, some way north. It seems that after the quake the Mother and grandmother had gone down to the water front to help other relatives. Then the tsunami struck. “We’ll search until I find her,” he said. It suddenly struck me that, along the length of the area struck by the tsunami — which must have actually hit more than 1,000 km of coastline, in various degrees of severity — there must be thousands of similar searches taking place: beach combers combing not just for mementos and trinkets of a past life, but for diamonds of their hearts.

A photo gallery of pictures taken across the devastated region can be found here. Comments warmly welcomed.

Japan Quake II

Photo shows shattered homes and other debris that was swept inland by the 10-meter high tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Minami Sanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture

Photo shows shattered homes and other debris that was swept inland by the 10-meter high tsunami that followed the March 11 magnitude 9 quake in Minami Sanriku Town, Miyagi Prefecture. Photographer: Robert Gilhooly

Today visited a coastal town in Miyagi Prefecture called Minami Sanriku that was flattened by the tsunami that followed Friday(s mag 9 quake. It was a totally horrific sight. Some 10,000 people of the 17,000 who live in the town are dead or missing, according to an official there. Met survivors who were taking refuge in a shelter on higher ground who said the  wave was 10 meters high. More images here

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