Sunday, April 17, 2011

The heart of Japan

News & Observer staff photojournalist Takaaki Iwabu returned to his native country of Japan following the devastating March earthquake. While in Japan, he chronicled the disaster, as well as the culture and spirit of his homeland through a personal narrative of words and photos. Iwabu, 42, has been a photojournalist with the N&O since 2004. This photo shows the view from a traditional inn in Tendo, Yamagata.
My first stop was the Saitama Super Arena, where residents from Fukushima area evacuated temporarily. City officials shut out the media, so I photographed the activities outside the arena, including volunteers cutting evacuees hair for free.
I have arrived in Japan 11 days after the earthquake and tsunami, when the stories about the leaking nuclear reactors at Fukushima dominated the news coverage.
Logistical problems kept me from reaching the disaster areas for a few days. A view of long lines waiting for the opening of the supermarkets was common as I approached Sendai via bus.
The first stop was Natori, a small agricultural town east of Sendai. More than 700 bodies have been found and about 1,000 people were still missing.
An emergency shelter in Ishinomaki displays a banner of "Hope."

Ishinomaki, a port city in Miyagi, is one of the towns most seriously damaged by the March 11 tsunami.
A morning in Sendai. Many Japanese are calling for voluntary self-restraint to express solidarity for the crisis.
A woman walks alone on Sendai's underground walkway. The city has restored most of its electricity and water, but it remains quieter than usual.
A couple at Shinjuku station. I returned to the county's capital to get a visa from the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
A view of downtown Rikuzen-Takata showing the swath of damage caused by the tsunami. A reporter and I travelled by car on this trip.
The killer wave destroyed the busy residential area of Rikuzen-Takata.
Workers from Iwate Prefecture search wrecked cars for personal items and valuables. They're collecting the wrecks on an empty lot in Rikuzen-Takata and will try to identify their owners.

High school students studying to be pre-school teachers visit an emergency shelter in Rikuzen-Takata to entertain evacuated children.
Many young Japanese people are engaging in volunteer activity to help the tsunami victims.
Children evacuated at a shelter in Rikuzen-Takata play with high school volunteers from the nearby high school.
Futoshi Toba, mayor of Rikuzen-Takata, gives a daily press conference to update the count of the missing and the dead. Toba, 46, who became the mayor only a month before the disaster, lost his wife in the March 11 tsunami.
A house floats in the ocean near Otomo-cho.
A destroyed clock in Ohfunato displays the time the tsunami hit on March 11.
Akira Murakami takes a picture of the only remaining pine tree at Takata-Matsubara, a well-known beach in Rikuzen-Takata that used to have thousands of pine trees.
A young Japanese man who works in Shizuoka as a hairdresser came back to his hometown in Kamaishi to help his family who lost their house in the tsunami.

Jizo statues at a Ohsuemachi shrine got destroyed by the tsunami.
The evacuees sheltered in Yamada-Machi watch a video of the tsunami erasing coastal towns in Northern Japan.
Shunetsu Suzuki searches for keepsakes on the foundation of his house in Oofunato. He found only bits, but two of his photo albums were recovered at a high school more than a half mile away.
When everything is gone, crushed or water-logged, memorabilia is all that matters. Here are a few photos recovered in the Yamada-Machi area.
A tug boat landed in a residential neighborhood in Ohfunato.
Sada Ueno, 93, untangles fishing lines for the family's commercial fishing operation. Her nephew saved the family fishing boat, but fish processors aren't operating and it's unclear when they'll be able to fish again.
Hiroko Kon searches for personal items in the rubble where her house once stood in Ohtsuchi-Machi. The 37-year-old Tokyo resident came back home three weeks after the tsunami wiped out her hometown.
Makoto Sasaki of Yomada-Machi visits the town's market temporarily opened in a parking lot amid heaps of debris to buy flowers for a grave of her family dog. The 21-year-old university student came home to help her family c

At the end of the trip, I came home in Yokohoma to check on my parents. A strong aftershock shook my hometown two days before I left there.

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