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

Final month, a photograph essay and article instructed the story of their dedication in the course of the previous 10 years. In an interview, Ms. Masuike mentioned the evolution of her undertaking.

Many cities and villages had 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 residence nation was going by 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.

Sooner or later, I used to be driving in Kesen and noticed a small temple on greater 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 completely different from some other individuals residing in evacuation facilities — they had been so energetic. The second day once I visited the individuals within the temple, they instructed 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 daily; they’d 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 undertaking?

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 fitting second. I attempted to be listener — I feel they needed 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 can be rebuilt, as a result of it had been the middle of the group for hundreds of years.

Had been there any challenges you confronted with this undertaking over the previous decade?

More often than not once I went again, there have been no modifications locally. The temple was rebuilt in 2017, however Rikuzentakata instructed 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 development took quite a bit 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 in all probability don’t want to return twice a 12 months. However the individuals I’ve been photographing are making some progress. One particular person goes to open a dog-friendly cafe this summer season. So I wish to maintain visiting and photographing their lives. I’ve been seeing them for 10 years. It’s onerous to cease.

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