For 10 Years, Photographer Follows Up on Destroyed Village

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On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and a tsunami struck coastal Japan, killing 200 residents of Kesen, a centuries-old village. Solely two of the 550 houses weren’t destroyed, and a lot of the survivors moved away. However 15 residents vowed to remain and rebuild the village, and Hiroko Masuike, a New York Occasions photographer and Japanese native, traveled twice a yr from New York over the previous decade to chronicle their efforts.

Final month, a photograph essay and article advised the story of their willpower throughout the previous 10 years. In an interview, Ms. Masuike mentioned the evolution of her challenge.

Many cities and villages had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. Why did you determine to concentrate on Kesen?

When the tsunami occurred, I needed to be there as a result of my residence nation was going by a significant catastrophe. Rikuzentakata, the town the place Kesen is, was one of many hardest hit. I had a trip deliberate, however 12 days after the tsunami, I landed on the nearest airport. I began to {photograph} the particles and other people at an evacuation heart in Rikuzentakata, however I used to be nonetheless numb.

Someday, I used to be driving in Kesen and noticed a small temple on larger floor. Ten folks had been dwelling there, and throughout the city, there have been different folks dwelling among the many particles. They had been very totally different from every other folks dwelling in evacuation facilities — they had been so energetic. The second day once I visited the folks within the temple, they advised me, “If you wish to stick with us, you may.” I began photographing how they lived: They constructed a small shack the place we ate; they made a bonfire every single day; they might attempt to clear up the place. They had been hoping to reunite their group.

How did this go from photographing the aftermath of a significant catastrophe to a long-term challenge?

After I first went there, everybody opened as much as me and put their belief in me. I didn’t need to be somebody who goes to a catastrophe zone after which, when the information fades, leaves and by no means returns. So I simply stored going again, photographing everyone every time and catching up on how they had been doing. In the course of the 10 years, I used to be capable of spend loads of time with survivors and seize the best second. I attempted to be listener — I believe they wished to inform somebody their tales, emotions and frustrations. In order that they opened to me much more once I stored returning.

What had been you hoping to seize on the outset of the piece?

I hoped this group was going to rebuild. My first journey again was in October 2011, and the federal government had began constructing prefabricated homes, so folks had been dwelling there — besides this man, Naoshi, who misplaced his son, a volunteer firefighter, to the quake. He thought that as a result of his son’s spirit would possibly come again, he needed to be on the similar location, so he rebuilt his home in August 2012. And I hoped to seize when the temple can be rebuilt, as a result of it had been the middle of the group for hundreds of years.

Had been there any challenges you confronted with this challenge over the previous decade?

More often than not once I went again, there have been no adjustments locally. The temple was rebuilt in 2017, however Rikuzentakata advised survivors that they couldn’t rebuild their houses the place their homes as soon as stood. Authorities labored on elevating the extent of the land for residential use. However development took so much longer than they thought, and many individuals couldn’t wait that lengthy and moved elsewhere, and the land remained empty. After I went again this yr for the 10th anniversary, the development was full, and seeing the vacant space was beautiful: The village was as soon as full of individuals and homes, however 10 years later, there was nothing.

Will you proceed to {photograph} Kesen?

I most likely don’t want to return twice a yr. However the folks I’ve been photographing are making some progress. One individual goes to open a dog-friendly cafe this summer season. So I wish to preserve visiting and photographing their lives. I’ve been seeing them for 10 years. It’s exhausting to cease.

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