March 2013 marks the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami which devastated the Tohoku region of Japan. Despite everything that happened, and the very many lives that were lost (approximately 16,000 people killed and around 2,700 people still unaccounted for), Japan has maintained a fighting spirit throughout. Although this tragedy taught us the real meaning of words such as ‘devastation’ and ‘destruction’, it also taught us the real meaning of ‘hope’, ‘community’ and ‘がんばろう’ (‘ganbarou’, which basically means ‘let’s try our best’).
The Asahi Shimbun (one of Japan’s five national newspapers) and Mitsubishi Corporation (Japan’s largest trading company) have put together an exhibition of press photos from the Asahi Shimbun’s media coverage, and the exhibition opened in London today. Containing 57 images, the exhibition is a little hard to digest in places, and incredibly moving, but also uplifting and incredibly powerful.
My personal favourite image (if ‘favourite’ can be the right word under such circumstances) was this large image of a very small local festival which took place in August 2011. I remember being told at the time that all festivals were cancelled, and thinking that a little strange, but I guess it wasn’t true. This festival took place during the ‘Bon‘ season, when deceased loved ones are remembered, so it was very appropriate to hold this festival at that particular time. There’s something incredibly powerful about this image, and the way the colourful float is being paraded through the rubble.
Another striking image in the exhibition is this prize-winning photo, ‘She cries’ by Toshiyuki Tunenari, an Asahi Shimbun photographer.
The image of a woman crying amidst the destruction of the earthquake and tsunami won third prize in the ‘people in the news’ category at the 55th World Press Photo Contest. A total of 101,254 images shot by 5,247 photographers from 124 countries were entered into the competition, with only 57 images receiving awards.
The exhibition’s opening ceremony was attended by representatives of the Asahi Shimbun and Mitsubishi Corporation, as well as His Excellency Mr Keiichi Hayashi, Ambassador of Japan to the UK.
First, Kenichi Fukuchi, General Manager and Managing Editor of the Tokyo Head Office of the Asahi Shimbun, gave a short speech.
He introduced the exhibition and thanked the people of the UK for their support. He also said:
Our newspaper has about 1,800 reporters, and of them a total of 1,000 reporters and photographers have covered the disaster in the affected areas. Since this landmark disaster occurred the newspaper our newspaper has reported every day on what is happening in the affected areas, how the people are surviving and how reconstruction efforts are being made. We have naturally accumulated a vast number of photos in our daily coverage. I hope that you will take the time to view them and be reminded about the disaster and how the affected people have been surviving. Our partner for this photo exhibition, Mitsubishi Corporation, has also made many reconstruction efforts following the disaster. More than 2,000 employees of Mitsubishi Corporation volunteered to work in the disaster areas and many of them are still doing such work today.
About the Asahi Shimbun: The Asahi Shimbun is a nationally renowned newspaper with a circulation of 7.78 million copies for its morning edition and 3 million for the evening run. Since its launch in 1879 the company has undertaken various social projects, including sponsoring the National High School Baseball Championship, also known as Koshien, which launched in 1915, co-sponsoring the All Japan Brass Band competition and various other social endeavours similar to the Great East Japan Earthquake Press Photo Exhibition. The Asahi Shimbun digital edition launched in May 2011 and includes almost all articles found in the paper copy, as well as unique content and movie news. Various functions are available, including setting preferred articles from the past.
Please visit www.asahi.com for further details.
The second speaker was Yasuhito Hirota, Senior Vice President of Mitsubishi Corporation.
Again, he thanked the UK for their heartfelt support, and then explained what he hopes the exhibition will achieve:
While some of you may never have experienced a big earthquake before, I hope that these photographs help you imagine how devastating nature can be and how utterly defenceless we are against its power. As we strive to live in harmony with the natural world we also have to face its threats and I hope that these photographs serve as a reminder that whilst we were defeated we can rise up and try to revive the human spirit. recovery will take time and many memories will never be erased but it is important that we never forget; that we keep supporting those who must need us.
About Mitsubishi Corporation: Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) is a global integrated business enterprise that develops and operates businesses across virtually every industry including industrial finance, energy, metals, machinery, chemicals, foods, and environmental business. MC’s current activities are expanding far beyond its traditional trading operations as its diverse business ranges from natural resources development to investment in retail business, infrastructure, financial products and manufacturing of industrial goods.
Please visit www.mitsubishicorp.com for more information.
Despite this exhibition being organised by two massive companies, I was surprised at how personal it felt. It could have easily turned into a publicity stunt or money-making event, but the exhibition is free, and seems to genuinely be about reminding people what’s happening in Japan, and sharing some outstanding press photography.
His Excellency Mr Keiichi Hayashi, Ambassador of Japan to the UK, was invited to take a look around the exhibition.
Although I will never forget seeing the destruction unfold on the news just hours after the tsunami had struck, seeing this image (below) really brought home to me the incredible power of the wave:
You can see the disaster literally unfolding as your eyes move clockwise from the top left image round to the bottom left image.
Some images really did make me stop in my tracks. As I said, it’s not an easy exhibition to digest in places.
But the photographs in the exhibition are not all upsetting and shocking images. The exhibition aims to show how the reconstruction is going, and how life is returning to some kind of normality, slowly but surely, and how there is hope.
Visitors to the exhibition are invited to write their messages to Japan on cards and hang them from a tree covered with plastic cherry blossom (a very nice touch, I thought), in the style of ‘ema‘ (wooden plaques which you usually find at shrines in Japan).
If you’re able to get to London, I really do urge you to stop by this exhibition, if only for five minutes. it’s incredibly important that we remember Japan, not just on the anniversary, but always. The reconstruction is happening, but it’s going to be a long time before it is complete, and Japan needs our support throughout that process.
2 Years After: Great East Japan Earthquake Press Photo Exhibition (東日本大震災報道写真展) is on at Gallery@Oxo, Oxo Tower Wharf,South Bank, London SE1 9PH from today until 17th March. The gallery is open 11am – 6pm, and the exhibition is free to enter. The nearest stations are Southwark and Waterloo. For more information, please visit: www.2yearsafter.co.uk. You can also follow the exhibition on Twitter: @2YearsAfter and Facebook.