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 properties 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 Instances 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 in the course of the previous 10 years. In an interview, Ms. Masuike mentioned the evolution of her challenge.

Many cities and villages have been devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. Why did you resolve to deal with Kesen?

When the tsunami occurred, I needed to be there as a result of my dwelling nation was going by way of a serious catastrophe. Rikuzentakata, the 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 folks 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 have been dwelling there, and throughout the city, there have been different folks dwelling among the many particles. They have been very completely different from every other folks dwelling in evacuation facilities — they have been so energetic. The second day after I visited the folks within the temple, they advised me, “If you wish to stick with us, you may.” I began photographing how they lived: They constructed a small shack the place we ate; they made a bonfire each day; they might attempt to clear up the place. They have been hoping to reunite their neighborhood.

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

Once I first went there, everybody opened as much as me and put their belief in me. I didn’t need to be somebody who goes to a catastrophe zone after which, when the information fades, leaves and by no means returns. So I simply stored going again, photographing everyone every time and catching up on how they have been doing. In the course of the 10 years, I used to be in a position to spend loads of time with survivors and seize the fitting second. I attempted to be a great listener — I feel they needed to inform somebody their tales, emotions and frustrations. In order that they opened to me much more after I stored returning.

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

I hoped this neighborhood was going to rebuild. My first journey again was in October 2011, and the federal government had began constructing prefabricated homes, so folks have 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 neighborhood for hundreds of years.

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

More often than not after I went again, there have been no adjustments locally. The temple was rebuilt in 2017, however Rikuzentakata advised survivors that they couldn’t rebuild their properties the place their homes as soon as stood. Authorities labored on elevating the extent of the land for residential use. However development took loads longer than they thought, and many individuals couldn’t wait that lengthy and moved elsewhere, and the land remained empty. Once I went again this yr for the tenth anniversary, the development was full, and seeing the vacant space was beautiful: 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 in all probability 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 want to maintain visiting and photographing their lives. I’ve been seeing them for 10 years. It’s laborious to cease.

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