“But nothing I had seen in those first few days prepared me for the stop after Kamaishi. When I saw Otsuchi, my mind went blank”

– Chang-Ran Kim,
Vol. 43, No. 4, Apr. 2011

Zone of Misery

A young lad is walking along the road with a shovel, holding a bankbook covered with sand that he apparently dug out of the debris. We are parked by the side of a road in what is left of the town of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture, and photographer Rob Gilhooly is interviewing a middle-aged couple and their son as they pick through the remains of their home. They have scraped together a pathetic plastic bag full of mementoes of their life before the Great Tohoku Earthquake.

They see the boy walking down the road – they call him Ito-kun – and beckon him over. He smiles a hello, and they say they’re delighted to see him safe and sound, and ask where his parents are. The boy says he has just come from their funeral rites. There is silence. And then he adds that he hasn’t been able to find his younger brother either. I can’t stand it any more, and – to my shame – I turn from that young boy and move a few paces away. I can’t do this any longer. I need to get out of the zone of misery that has engulfed northeastern Japan.

Those very thoughts, however, trigger an overwhelming sense of guilt. I’m lucky, because I can get out, and that’s not my home that has been reduced to splinters and shards of plastic and glass.

– Julian Ryall,
Vol. 43 No. 4,
Apr. 2011