Yuriage one year after the tsunami
- 12 March 2012
- From the section In Pictures
Following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March 2011, photographer Jake Price travelled to the region to document the effect of the disaster on those whose lives were changed forever.
At that time he wrote a report for me on his time in Japan, and subsequently a follow-up six months later from the town of Yuriage. Now a year on, he has returned once more. Here is his final report from the region.
Jake Price in Yuriage
When I arrived in Yuriage this winter it was coated in a wet soft snow. The first place I went was to the hill where the Hiyoriyama shrine once stood, the highest point in town providing the best view. Nearly a year earlier I arrived at the same spot when the landscape was submerged in black water. Nearly all structures had been laid to waste, producing a jagged, raw landscape that smelled of rotting wood, dead bodies and stagnant water.
The transformation of Tohoku's landscape has been profound. Hundreds of miles of coastline - roughly equalling the distance between Washington DC and Boston - have been scrubbed clean of the debris scattered in the tsunami's aftermath. As far as clean-ups go, this may just be the world's most impressive, both for the speed at which the clearing took place, and in the meticulous attention to detail in which even the smallest items that could be meaningful to a survivor were preserved.
I chose to photograph the white landscape of Yuriage because it reminded me of stories and feelings that survivors shared with me this harsh winter. Beneath the snow's serenity remain the frames of houses and scattered lost mementoes - memories of a full and vibrant town that people cannot forget.
On a purely literal level, the whiteness of the landscape asks the question, what is to be done about this blank slate of a town and region?
The citizenry of Tohoku, and the self-defence forces who rescued so many lives, shone in the initial response to the disaster. The clearing of towns gave the impression that something constructive was underway, that new life would be springing from the wreckage sooner than anyone had thought. But ideas to bring new towns to life cannot just spring up the way a town can be cleared. Imagining and agreeing what will take its place is a lot more complex and time consuming.
All up and down the coast, communities are engaging in the very human and therefore messy process of deciding what their future will be. And where it will be. Much of the older generation wants to move back because these towns are all they know. For those thinking about new families and opportunities, they ask whether there should be a future so close to the sea that brought so much destruction and loss.
As city councils propose plans, residents debate and propose their own solutions. The process of moving on is a complicated one. Meanwhile Tohoku's landscape remains a blank slate.
Jake is in the process of creating a website chronicling his months in Yuriage, you can see it here. You can see more of Jake Price's other work on his website.