After The Meltdown, What Is It Really Like At The Fukushima Plant?

After The Meltdown, What Is It Really Like At The Fukushima Plant?

PSFK interviews the New York based photographer Kyoko Hamada who traveled to the area, risking her own safety in pursuit of capturing striking visual images of the region in the wake of the destruction.

Laura Feinstein
  • 31 october 2011

In a year that’s brought a great number of news-worthy, world-changing, and utterly shocking events, one has still managed to stand out in particular as a reminder of just how fragile our man-made society can be. The recent meltdown at the Fukushima Plant in Japan was shocking not just for its sheer terror and devastation, but also as a symbol of our own weakness in the face of mother nature’s full force. As one of the worst nuclear disasters since 1986’s Chernobyl accident, the events at the Fukushima Plant sent shockwaves throughout Japanese society–a culture already well-experienced in the aftereffects of nuclear fallout.

Recruited by The New Yorker, New York based photographer Kyoko Hamada bravely traveled to the area in the direct aftermath, risking her own safety in pursuit of capturing striking visual images of a region facing the unthinkable. The results are a series of moving portraits, available for full view at the New Yorker’s website. We recently asked Kyoko to tell us a little bit about what it was like to travel to Fukushima, and how the experience has impacted her.

Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to the Fukushima Nuclear Power plant?

I was on a photo assignment for the New Yorker.

How would you describe the atmosphere there?

On the bus ride to the Fukushima area, I was surprised to see that nature was prospering despite all of the radiation.
I noticed a general worry about the radiation, but at the same time, people were still focused on their everyday lives. They went to work, school, shopped for groceries and met up with friends, and there even seemed to be a sense of hopefulness and community even among strangers. When I started meeting people who still live in Fukushima, I thought I may have been overly concerned about the radiation, however, once I started hearing the geiger counters beeping, and saw big ones installed on the sidewalks I quickly realized it was a very serious situation. Radiation is deceiving. We can’t see it, so it’s easy to create this big monster in your head even when the geiger counter is not showing high radiation.

Or you can be standing in middle of a beautiful village surrounded by flowers and trees with bumble bees the geiger counter can be showing dangerously high. Despite all of the confusion and conflicting feelings, I did get a sense people’s strength, and optimism for the future.

What were you expecting when you left? How did it compare to the reality?

It almost seems as though there is more concern about the effects of the radiation coming from the U.S. media than in Japan. It reminded me of 9/11 when my family in Tokyo thought that all of New York City was under attack. Meanwhile, as surreal as it all was, a lot of us just went to work and carried on with our daily lives. The reality is Fukushima City is very much functioning, and people still live and work there, except for in the evacuated areas within 30 km (18 miles) of the power plant.

Had you been to the area before? From your perspective, how has the government been stepping in?

No, this was the first time visiting Fukushima. I’m no expert in this area and I’m sure they are doing all they can at this point (I’d like to believe that they are ). However, it seemed that they took some time until they started stepping in, while it really was crucial to make important decisions in the beginning.

Did you have any hesitations about working on the project?

I definitely had some worries about taking this assignment, but at the same time I felt it was very important for me to go there and see for myself what was going on. I had spent so much time closely following the news and getting updates from my family, that when the New Yorker offered me the job, I almost saw it as a gift in weird way.

What images or visuals especially drew you in?

It was important for me to see things without any judgment. I didn’t want to come back with more devastation pictures since I had already seen so many of those on news. The reality was that I really felt a lot of tenderness from the local people who really care about where they live. It was important for me to show that life goes on even after this type of sad event.

I noticed that the motif of sunflowers are recurring in many of your photographs, do you think you could explain that?

Well… I like flowers. I was visiting Fukushima during Obon (a Buddhist festival honoring the spirits of ancestors). I was thinking of the custom in Japan of going home and visiting family graves. I met local people who were planting flowers and told me that they will be good offerings for their ancestors, as well as for the victims of the disaster. Also, I was there in late August when sunflowers bloom, and some of the farmers had replanted their rice patties with sunflowers hoping that they would be helpful in absorbing radiation from the soil.

How did you find your subjects? Were any reluctant?

The writer of the article gave me a few contacts that he wanted me to photograph—people who were subjects in his piece. There was one plant worker who seemed reluctant to be photographed since it might put his job at risk. The rest of people I photographed were people I met casually on the streets just by walking around with a camera.

Now that you’ve been there, do you feel you might ever go again?

I would like to go back there since there are many photographs I still have in mind that I couldn’t photograph at the time. Also, it’ll be nice to say hello again to some of the memorable people I met there.

Kyoko Hamada: Letter to Fukushima
Evan Osnos,:“The Fallout,” The New Yorker
Kyoko Hamada


IKEA Is Letting Kids Design Its New Line Of Toys

Travel Today

30-Year-Old Photographs Used As Travel Guides

A new photo series revolves around tracing the origins of images from the past

Technology Today

Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Streamed

Bill Baird's new album explores the relationship between time and music through a website crafted by design team, One Pixel Wide


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Health Today

VR App Prescribed For Pain Relief

A pharmacy chain in Sweden is stepping away from tradition to develop a happy place for the pain-afflicted

Retail Today

Banks Are Coming Together To Create A New Payment Network That Rivals Venmo

A number of financial institutions are collaborating to make a new person-to-person monetary system called Zelle for their customers

Media & Publishing Today

Pocket Camera Aims To Facilitate The Struggles Of Live Streams

The Mevo helps resolve the complexities of streaming video with an intuitive setup and smart editing controls

Food Today

Startup Believes Traceability Will Help Disrupt The Multivitamin Industry

Ritual is a daily supplement for women that traces every ingredient back to its source

Food Today

Photo Series Brutally Murders Some Of Your Favorite Fast Food

The portraits by artist duo Ilka & Franz do away with mealtime regulars in a way that is both beautiful and humorous


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Creative Leadership Expert: Experiencing A Seismic Shift From Brand Loyalty To Interface Loyalty

Marc Shillum, founder of Chief Creative Office, explains why product designers must rethink the way they capture consumer attention

PSFK Labs october 25, 2016

The Keys For Exceptional Performance On And Off The Field

PSFK Labs' new report highlights five important insights for businesses to perform better than the competition

Mobile Today

Coffeemaker Teaches You How To Make The Perfect Cup

The device comes with an accompanying app that guides novices and experts alike through the brewing process

Op-Ed Today

General Electric: Lighting’s Impact On Sleep Is More Than The Off Switch

Jeff Patton, General Manager of Connected Home Products at GE Lighting, uncovers how lighting technologies can affect our sleep cycles

Brand Development Today

The Story Behind How LYNK & CO Created A Car Brand From Scratch

Head of Design Andreas Nilsson describes which values were most influential in determining the identity and design direction of the new auto company

Travel Today

Architect’s Design Presents A Radically New Approach For New York’s Penn Station

The firm of Vishaan Chakrabarti has envisioned a bright community and travel hub in the heart of the city

Fitness & Sport Today

Editorial Roundtable: Building An All-Encompassing Performance Suite

WHOOP, ShotTracker, Rithmio, PlaySight, STYR Labs, EverybodyFights and Lift / Next Level Floats on the partnership opportunities available in health and fitness

Gaming & Play Today

Fantasy Game Responds To Each Player’s Emotions

The card battling venture measures responses through a Bluetooth clip to adjust the experience accordingly

Luxury Today

Carry A Map Of NYC On A Handbag

The bag from Bottega Veneta has been designed exclusively for Bergdorf Goodman to celebrate New York City

Technology Today

Roaming Robots Crawl Around Your Body To Do Small Jobs As You Go About Your Day

A new concept wearable developed by researchers at MIT and Stanford are fully functional bots that live on your clothing

No search results found.