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 a lot 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 12 months from New York over the previous decade to chronicle their efforts.

Final month, a photograph essay and article informed the story of their willpower through the previous 10 years. In an interview, Ms. Masuike mentioned the evolution of her challenge.

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

When the tsunami occurred, I needed to be there as a result of my house 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.

At some point, I used to be driving in Kesen and noticed a small temple on larger floor. Ten individuals had been residing there, and throughout the city, there have been different individuals residing among the many particles. They had been very totally different from another individuals residing in evacuation facilities — they had been so energetic. The second day once I visited the individuals within the temple, they informed 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 day by day; 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 challenge?

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 capable of spend loads of time with survivors and seize the fitting second. I attempted to be a superb listener — I believe they wished to inform somebody their tales, emotions and frustrations. In order 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 individuals had been residing 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 would possibly come again, he needed to be on the identical 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 challenge over the previous decade?

More often than not once I went again, there have been no modifications in the neighborhood. The temple was rebuilt in 2017, however Rikuzentakata informed 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 building took so much 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 12 months 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 most likely don’t want to return twice a 12 months. However the individuals I’ve been photographing are making some progress. One individual goes to open a dog-friendly cafe this summer season. So I wish to preserve visiting and photographing their lives. I’ve been seeing them for 10 years. It’s exhausting to cease.

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