A Destroyed Village and 10 Years of Hope

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On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and a tsunami struck coastal Japan, killing 200 residents of Kesen, a centuries-old village. Solely two of the 550 houses weren’t destroyed, and many of the survivors moved away. However 15 residents vowed to remain and rebuild the village, and Hiroko Masuike, a New York Occasions photographer and Japanese native, traveled twice a yr from New York over the previous decade to chronicle their efforts.

Final month, a photograph essay and article advised the story of their dedication throughout the previous 10 years. In an interview, Ms. Masuike mentioned the evolution of her mission.

Many cities and villages had been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. Why did you determine to concentrate on Kesen?

When the tsunami occurred, I needed to be there as a result of my dwelling nation was going via a serious catastrophe. Rikuzentakata, town the place Kesen is, was one of many hardest hit. I had a trip deliberate, however 12 days after the tsunami, I landed on the nearest airport. I began to {photograph} the particles and other people at an evacuation middle in Rikuzentakata, however I used to be nonetheless numb.

In the future, I used to be driving in Kesen and noticed a small temple on increased floor. Ten folks had been dwelling there, and throughout the city, there have been different folks dwelling among the many particles. They had been very completely different from every other folks dwelling in evacuation facilities — they had been so energetic. The second day once I visited the folks within the temple, they advised me, “If you wish to stick with us, you possibly can.” I began photographing how they lived: They constructed a small shack the place we ate; they made a bonfire on daily basis; they might attempt to clear up the place. They had been hoping to reunite their group.

How did this go from photographing the aftermath of a serious catastrophe to a long-term mission?

After I first went there, everybody opened as much as me and put their belief in me. I didn’t wish to be somebody who goes to a catastrophe zone after which, when the information fades, leaves and by no means returns. So I simply saved going again, photographing all people every time and catching up on how they had been doing. Through the 10 years, I used to be in a position to spend loads of time with survivors and seize the correct second. I attempted to be an excellent listener — I feel they needed to inform somebody their tales, emotions and frustrations. So that they opened to me much more once I saved returning.

What had been you hoping to seize on the outset of the piece?

I hoped this group was going to rebuild. My first journey again was in October 2011, and the federal government had began constructing prefabricated homes, so folks had been dwelling there — besides this man, Naoshi, who misplaced his son, a volunteer firefighter, to the quake. He thought that as a result of his son’s spirit may come again, he needed to be on the similar location, so he rebuilt his home in August 2012. And I hoped to seize when the temple could be rebuilt, as a result of it had been the middle of the group for hundreds of years.

Have been there any challenges you confronted with this mission over the previous decade?

More often than not once I went again, there have been no adjustments in the neighborhood. The temple was rebuilt in 2017, however Rikuzentakata advised survivors that they couldn’t rebuild their houses the place their homes as soon as stood. Authorities labored on elevating the extent of the land for residential use. However building took rather a lot longer than they thought, and many individuals couldn’t wait that lengthy and moved elsewhere, and the land remained empty. After I went again this yr for the tenth anniversary, the development was full, and seeing the vacant space was gorgeous: The village was as soon as full of individuals and homes, however 10 years later, there was nothing.

Will you proceed to {photograph} Kesen?

I most likely don’t want to return twice a yr. However the folks I’ve been photographing are making some progress. One particular person goes to open a dog-friendly cafe this summer time. So I wish to preserve visiting and photographing their lives. I’ve been seeing them for 10 years. It’s onerous to cease.

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