As some of you may or may not know Japan just passed the one year anniversary of the huge tsunami that hit last year on March 11th, 2011 devastating thousands and thousands of people. Most of those affected lost everything. Cars, homes, offices, schools, even family. Included in the things lost were years and years of family heirlooms specifically all their family photos from previous generations.
Kristin and I were approached by some of our friends from The Butterfly Project to come out and use the creative arts to help serve the people of Japan and provide some emotional relief. I remember watching the devastation occurring through the news and trying to fathom what they were going through. As heart broken as I was for the Japanese people then- it would be nothing compared to being there in person and hearing the accounts of the victims first hand.
They have done and achieved so much in the past year. Cleaning and rebuilding in major areas has been phenomenal, truly, and it’s safe to say that Japan is probably one of, if not the most self efficient, self disciplined societies on the planet. But unfortunately there is still a long way to go. The Tsunami of 3.11 generated over a 100 years worth of trash, in one day, ONE DAY! Cars, buses, boats, homes all turned into piles and piles of trash to sift through and separate. They have spent the last year trying to clean up and rebuild but living in those effected areas is still a constant reminder of what happened and what was lost.
Since most people lost their homes they are living in temporary housing provided by the government. These homes are not much by any stretch of the imagination and are located about 20 miles outside of the disaster areas. In fact for most people the thought of revisiting their home town is too painful and many haven’t been back since the tsunami. We were given the opportunity to follow some small businesses around in the disaster areas to document how they are trying to rebuild those communities. We wanted to capture the work being done so it would encourage people to move out of the temporary housing and get back to enjoying their daily life.
We partnered up with CRASH Japan to work with some local churches and see who could benefit from this type of ministry. The images you see below are only a handful of the portraits taken. There were thousands and thousands of photos we took for one reason or another. As random as they may appear they were taken with a specific purpose. Either to remember something lost, to capture a moment in time, document the rebuilding of a community or even as simple as providing a fun escape from the pain they are still battling. Thus the real need and reason for our going was not only replace those precious family memories in the form of photographs but ultimately to restore hope in the daily lives of those affected. Specifically by sharing with them the everlasting hope found only in Jesus Christ. We hope that you enjoy these photos. I will explain the background stories behind some of the images but for others due to privacy and respect to the individuals I will only be sharing the image itself.
The bottom left photos shows how quickly the Tsunami came since the kids shoes were still in the cubby.
Below is probably one of the most powerful photos I have ever taken. The couple standing on the foundation of where their house once stood.
The two girls below met and became friends living in the temporary housing shown above. I can’t imagine the pain these girls have gone through. When we met one of the girls, she was completely closed off emotionally and who could blame her. Her grandfather wanted some portraits of the two of them together but Miss L, refused. We eventually got a couple of the two of them together but encouraged Miss L to grab her friend for some additional pictures. It was great to see this incredibly hard shelled little girl transform into the joy filled little teenaged firecracker that she should be!
I was honored to photograph the Kessenuma High School mens baseball team. The school itself was situated high enough to not really be directly affected by the tsunami (only the first floor was flooded) but a majority of the students watched their homes and other loved ones get washed away from the schools rooftop. The schoool opened up its facilities with neighboring schools and many students lived here while temporary housing units were built.
Probably my favorite memory from our trip was celebrating the anniversary of the Tsunami with all of the remaining survivors of the Kesennuma First Bible Congregation. The church was washed away in the disaster along with many of its members. The church body still stands although the church structure does not. During the anniversary of 3.11 Japan as a nation had a moment of silence for remembrance of loved ones lost in the disaster. During this time they sounded the Tsunami sirens at the exact time of the earthquake along with a second siren of when the Tsunami hit. It was such an incredibly powerful feeling standing on the foundation of where buildings once stood, holding hands with some of the remaining survivors and imagining the fear that must have overwhelmed them when they saw the huge wall of water heading their way.Once the sounds of sirens stopped there was nothing but silence accompanied by the sight and sound of tears and sniffles. A few moments passed then one of the members of the congregation picked up his guitar and starting singing “How Great is Our God”. Even in the midst of pain, sorrow and complete brokenness they lifted their hands up high and started singing to and praising our Savior King.