Michinoku Homeward: Walking toward Northeast

documentary

“Michinoku Homeward: Walking toward Northeast” is a deeply personal documentary photo project with subjective approach by a Japanese photographer originally from the region. In 2021, 10 years after the disaster in Michinoku or Northeast Japan, I walked along the historical route going the distance of 400 km. This is a photo documentary with journalistic topicality and with somewhat poetic view towards my home.

2011, the unforgettable year of the disasters hitting my home. The earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear accident took about 20,000 lives. I was devastated by my powerlessness as a native. All I could do back then as an artist was only to go home with the slow and simple way of traveling; with Trans-Siberian trains and a ship, taking 1 month in summer of that year, measuring both physical and psychological distance to my home.  

In 2021, I started this project “Michinoku Homeward: Walking toward Northeast” with my renewed intention. I traveled 400 km along the historical route, officially organized in the very beginning of the 17th century, from the 0 mile point in Tokyo to my home in Michinoku region by an ancient manner, walking. I also went to Fukushima Nuclear Plant area only to be shocked by the sights of uninhabited areas. It was also confusing to see the Government of Fukushima building new roads in the area where no resident was left.

2021 was also the year of Tokyo Olympic Games, delayed due to Covid19 and held despite the large protest. Leaving from the Olympic enthusiasm fabricated by the Japanese and Tokyo governments to turn away people’s eyes from the inconvenient truth of Fukushima, I walked northeastward.

Instead of a three and a half hour travel with a super express train, with this slow travel in the 10th year since the disaster, my motivation was to observe my home closely and intimately by walking for 1 month. This primitive manner of traveling gave me a chance to observe closely the land’s progress and/or regress.

I photographed the way home, the people I met on my way, and my home. This photo project captures my home at the verge of changing, hopefully recovering or disappearing, perhaps.

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South of Otawara city. Part of the major power line used to transmit power from Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant to Tokyo.

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2021 was also a memorable year: 80 years after the Pacific War broke out. Also, April 29, 2021, the celebration day of Showa-era, or 120th birthday of former Emperor Hirohito, born in 1901. On this day, at Yasukuni Shrine dedicated for the dead soldiers including war criminals, Mr. Taniguchi from Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima was playing his ocarina in front of Rising Sun Flag, performing the songs that were popular among the military during the war.

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On the way to Soka, Saitama

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School children on their way home. Near Kasukabe, Saitama

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Eugene from Cameroon, works with ambiguous work & residence permit in Soka. After Covid-19 outbreak, he lost his work at a car factory and now works for a local recycling service. "It is very difficult for foreigners to apply for residence or work permit in Japan. I wish I could work here as a car trader, exporting used cars to Cameroon.”

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Mr. Enomoto. A man wearing “knickerbockers,” meaning that he works as a builder or a scrapper. Koga city, Saitama

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Mrs.Takahata, 87 yeas old, collecting green onion seeds for the next season. She is happy to provide vegetables for her family.
Shirakawa, Fukushima

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Dead snake, Nihommatsu city, Fukushima

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Shichigashuku Dam, built in the 1980’s to 1990’s. For this construction, one village with 158 houses sunk under water. Miyagi prefecture

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14 year old junior high-school student, Shinobu Bridge, Fukushima city

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Mrs. Yokoyama, 86 years old, likes to work outside. She was pulling up the weeds in an empty lot.
Yokoyama had to evacuate from Namie to Kori town after the TEPCO accident, and now she will stay here for the rest of her life.

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Jizō bodhisattva statues are often seen along the historical routes all over Japan.

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Even older route from the beginning of the 17th century, connecting Yamagata and Miyagi, eventually to Tokyo.

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Entrance gate to Osuwa Shrine, Kaminoyama, Yamagata prefecture

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Mr. Kumagai, Shinto priest, Manzo Inari Shrine, Shiroishi, Miyagi. This shrine was established in the 18th century for the safety of travelers and also for working horses carrying loads along the route. Many horses lost lives while carrying loads in the mountain.

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I arrived my home just before sunset on Sep 11. Yasumasa and Mieko, my parents welcoming their daughter's home coming on their vegetable field.

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Trees died of Tsunami in March 2011. They are still left there in Namie town, Fukushima

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Masami Yoshizawa's farm in Namie. Yoshizawa rescued and now is taking care of more than 200 cows and bulls that were destined to be killed after being exposed to radiation.

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An abandoned house, Futaba, Fukushima. Less than 10 km from TEPCO Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

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Newly paved road, yet hardly any cars. Road constructions are going on near TEPCO area though there is nobody living in this area after the nuclear accident in 2011. Futaba town, Fukushima

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“I lived in Nihonmatsu city for 8 years after the disaster. I missed my home, Namie, so I came back. But younger people can’t come back because there is no work for them. This town has changed a lot. Houses disappeared, and there are unfamiliar apartments for construction workers.” Mrs. Oyama, Namie

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Closed Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant of TEPCO, viewed from 5 km north. Tops of metal towers are somehow visible behind the hill. Futaba town, Sep, 2021