menu

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

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

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

culture
Trending

Japanese Face Wash Creates A Perfect Rose Every Time

Arts & Culture
Mobile Yesterday

Get A Better Idea Of How You Are Wasting Your Time

The TouchTime app is trying to revolutionize personal task management by providing detailed insight on how to be more efficient

Culture Yesterday

London Telephone Box Repurposed As A Tiny Mobile Repair Shop

Tools and supplies to replace broken screens or damage are neatly stowed away in these micro-workrooms

Trending

Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Design Yesterday

Conceptual Sportswear Created Out Of Futuristic Condom Material

A Dutch fashion designer is experimenting with new methods and fabrics to make high performance clothing

Fashion Yesterday

Fashionable Tassel Will Ensure You Never Lose Your Valuables Again

The device is fashion meets connected tech, that will help you keep track of your belongings at all times

PURPLELIST EXPERTS

Jay Parkinson

Health, wellness, fitness

Syndicated Yesterday

Would You Wear Wool Shoes To Save The Environment?

As demand for wool shoes grows, a number of US footwear brands are heading directly to the source: the sheep pastures of New Zealand

Sustainability Yesterday

Self-Healing Material Is Fashioned Out Of Squid Teeth

Penn State researchers have devised a new textile that uses organic proteins

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Search Engine Turns Your Own Drawings Into Photos

This image-matching software accepts hand-made sketches instead of keywords

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed august 24, 2016

Why Building Better Offices Is The Key To Employee Engagement

Interaction Designer and Audio-visual Technologist at ESI Design illustrates the value in creating environments filled with surprise and delight

PSFK Labs august 25, 2016

PSFK’s Workplace Vision: How The Nurturing Of Seeds Will Come To Define The Onboarding Process

Our Future of Work vision is a service that allows companies to assemble and deliver welcome packets that are uniquely focused on the concept of growth

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Illustrator Interprets The Experiences Of Blind Travelers

Artist Alby Letoy creates drawings of poignant travel memories for the visually impaired

Advertising Yesterday

Clickbait Titles Used For The Good Of Charity

An agency devised an unlikely campaign that uses clickbait as a positive force to drive awareness to nonprofit initiatives

Advertising Yesterday

The Best In Eye-Catching Olympics Campaigns

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the best advertising moments off the field

Work Yesterday

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary and thinkPARALLAX enumerate the reasons why companies need an employee-embracing workforce in order to exist

Arts & Culture Yesterday

Transforming Light Waves Into A New Art Form

An artist uses glass treated with layers of metallic coatings to create a unique installation called lightpaintings

INSIGHTS COVERAGE

Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games
READ NOW

Design Yesterday

This Windbreaker Lets You Explore The Outdoors While Charging Your Phone

The apparel includes solar panels that allow the wearer to stay connected through the power of renewable energy

Asia Yesterday

The Goal Of This Game Is To Not Get Laid Off From Your Job

A hit mobile app has you working really, really hard to not get fired as you climb the corporate ladder

Advertising Yesterday

Movie Critic Bot Guides Viewers Through Festival Offerings

The Toronto International Film Festival has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help attendants curate their schedule

No search results found.