100th day

100th day
June 18, 2011
On the 100th day, today, I went to Ishinomaki.
I went up to Hiyoriyama . where the whole city of Ishinomaki can be viewed for the first time in many years.
From the mouth of the Kitakami River, the right side (Kadonowaki) was completely destroyed while there were many roofs on the left side. (Minato direction)
Around the Marumitsu Department Store, I could see scenes along Aitopia Street that brought back fond memories.

I went to see the San Juan Bautista, too. The ship that managed to survive the tsunami had its mast broken by the storm on April 28. On the website, you can see how it was at the time of the tsunami. The building around the dock was destroyed, but if you look at only the picture, it is very mystical and appears that it shows the strength of the ship that moves ahead in the storm very well. It has an atmosphere that the restored ship is fighting bravely in the art of nature.

I could talk to some staff members of the San Juan Museum. Some ship carpenters have retired due to age. It was in 1992 when my father took pictures of them. It was in 2004 when a photo exhibition was held. I had a chance to meet with some of the ship carpenters at the time, but I wonder how they are doing right now. The world of ship carpenters is artisan business and it seems that it is difficult to find successors. I am sure the number of ship carpenters is less compared to that of 20 years ago. I saw that Murakami Shipyard that used to be in Nakasu of Ishinomaki was gone… I hope that there will be more successors of ship carpenters and that the Sant Juan will be restored somehow so that there will be a day when it can go back to the vast ocean again. 

News letter from Genkidama Project

News letter from Genkidama (Spirit Bomb) Project
June 15, 2011
To all supporter of the Genkidama Project

Please allow me to let you know the following donations from the project.
Year 2011Onagawa Daiichi Elementary School: Delivered group pictures of enrollment ceremony matted and mounted in covers5/26
Year 2011 Onagawa Daiichi Junior High School: Delivered group pictures of enrollment ceremony matted and mounted in covers 5/26

I printed logo of ‘Gambappe! Onagawa’(‘Hanging tough! Onagawa’, shown left) on the mat.  Usually, a name of photo studio is printed as a title on a mat.   However, this time I put ‘Genkidama Project and Sasaki Portrait Studio’ as the title because I wanted to deliver the compassion of the 140 donors to the students.

And also the following donation will be made:
Year 2010 Onagawa Daiichi Junior High School: Additional yearbooks for the seniors of 2010
Year 2011 Onagawa Daiichi Elementary School: Total order of 39 yearbooks for new 6 graders.  Genkidama funds will donate 8,000yen  per book.
Year 2011 Onagawa Daiichi Junior High School: Total order of 69 yearbooks for new senior students.  Genkidama funds will donate 8,000yen per book.

The yearbooks of 2010 were delivered to school on March 10 and the students brought them to their home and washed away on very next day.  I estimated that 60 to 70 % of the seniors of 2010 lost their books.  Based on that number, I calculated the cost to reprint them, which is about 300,000yen and decided to pay in full from the funds.  Even though I don’t have the final number to be ordered, please allow me to report the progress.

As far as the year books of 2011are concerned, many families don’t have income yet because of the disaster, I tried to reduce the financial burdens of the parents to pay yearbooks.  The funds will pay \8,000 per book, which means 8,000yen cheaper than that in the past for families.  To be honest, I considered using the funds to pay full price.  However, there are concerns that some people might talk about free yearbooks in a certain school and expensive ones on the other schools.  Such an argument will cast negative impact on business of peers.  So, the solution was: same price as in the past and cover the part of the cost from the funds.

When I was a child, I always expected to receive a yearbook as given.
I found out later that it was our parents who paid money every month to the school for a yearbook like they did for school trip. 

Many parents in Onagawa were grateful when the schools explained the Genkidama project funds to help them.  The wishes of individuals to make memories to the children will reach out through the yearbooks for sure.  I am planning to print names of the all contributors on the last page of the yearbook.  Isn’t it delightful to think about these children to grow up and open their yearbooks 10 years or 20 years from now?

I extend my thanks to 140 donors for this project.  I would like to carry over the leftover money to the next year. 

Learning the History of Tsunamis

Learning the History of Tsunamis
June 8, 2011
I recently read a book titled “The Great Sanriku
Coastal Tsunamis” by Akira Yoshimura.  It was originally published in 1945 and has been reprinted several times since then.  The book describes in great detail the 1896 tsunami, the 1933 tsunami, and the 1960 tsunami caused by an earthquake in Chile. It contains eye-witness accounts by two survivors of the 1896 tsunami who must have been very old at the time of the interview for the book. The section of the book dealing with the 1933 tsunami includes essays by elementary school children describing the details of the tsunami, and how residents escaped (or failed to escape). 

If I had known about the book and had read it, I could have saved my parents…

Since I was a child I have heard a lot about the tsunami. As both of my paternal grandparents were dead, I didn’t have a chance to hear directly from them, but my father and his friends used to talk about “the great tsunami” often.  The tsunami they were talking about was the 1960 Chile tsunami.   
“The water receded to a far distance so that the bottom of the bay became visible. Fishes were jumping and some who went after them washed away and others got back alive. ” “I was up on the electric pole watching.”  “The first floor of the photo studio was under the water, but the second floor was alright. Oh, how I hated to throw away the tatami floor mats.” “It was a kind of fun to cook communal meals outdoor with neighbors.”  “People on the hills came down and helped us.” His stories sounded “not so serious” in comparison with the recent great earthquake and tsunami. There were even elements of humor in their stories that as a child I enjoyed hearing about the tsunami from adult men in my neighborhood.   

Now that I have read this book, I have come to realize why my parents could not escape from the tsunami.  The tsunami in my father’s memory was an “easygoing monkey tsunami” of 1960. He didn’t know the “Godzilla tsunamis” of 1896 and 1933!

The tsunami he experienced at the age of 22 was only the Chile tsunami. He could have possibly heard about the earlier great tsunamis; but such information is totally useless if it does not lead to risk management.  For my mother, she was a native of Akita where there is no tsunami.
The only tsunami she experienced was the one caused by the Chile earthquake in March, 2010 (only 0.5 meter high in Onagawa).  This one was another “easygoing” type; it came slowly taking 24 hours to reach Onagawa from the other side of the earth. At that time the relatives came and helped my parents move everything from the first floor to the second floor and to the studio which took a half day, thus avoiding any flood damage.  

But not this time!  They never thought they would be swept up in only 20 minutes after the big earthquake.  As the book describes, it must have been like a massive Godzilla suddenly appeared and began attacking.

I cannot help but feeling remorse.   If they had known the Godzilla size tsunamis, they could have taken proper actions for escape.  I now know how important it is to learn various types of tsunamis.  Such knowledge will lead to good disaster control. 

I never was worried about the tsunami during the 18 years I lived in Onagawa. Of course every Onagawan knew that the Sanriku coast was exposed to the danger of tsunami. But very few, if any, knew “how and when it would come.”  Even I wouldn’t know “how quickly it may come and how to escape from it.”  Reading this book makes me think that we could have foreseen and prepare for the recent gigantic one if we had known about those great tsunamis of the past.

I think this book should be read by everyone who lives along the Sanriku. It is easy enough for any middle school student to read. This book is packed with more valuable information than any other books on tsunami. “History repeats itself.” “Natural disaster repeats itself, too.”  (Though I don’t want to think about it now…)

My Honest Feelings Now--- Almost 3 months

My Honest Feelings Now--- Almost three months
June 5, 2011

In the TV and magazine interviews, I was asked if I have experienced any changes in my feelings from the onset of the earthquake/tsunami to the present.  I was puzzled by such a question as my feelings change from day to day.  I am fed up with the same old questions from various sources.  The responses and reactions to the earthquake and tsunami vary among the survivors and families of the deceased.  It would be better to face ordinarily with those who are trying to lead a normal life.

In my case, I first placed the painful, harsh fact outside my thought range.  I was not ignoring the fact, but rather I was intentionally controlling it in order to alleviate my pain and sorrow.  It worked for me around the time shortly after the earthquake.  However, as the time passes, sorrow has started to surface gradually.

My husband told me that people felt grief most when they remembered the decreased.
It is surely so.  The more I remember them, the sadder I feel.

Recently I remembered the alley from 25 years ago that I used to pass when I was a child.  This was even before Onagawa Bypass was built.  Where did this lead to?  I tried to remember, but my memory broke off.  Then I remembered my old house.  There were a lineup of many coffee cups and a siphon coffee-maker that my mother cherished.  I tried to visualize where they went.  Then I wondered how the stairs and pillars were destroyed.  And then my mind became exhausted to the point where my thought process stopped.

It is not a sin to feel grief.  However, it takes so much energy.  So I want to feel grief at my own pace.  There is a way to share grief with others, but I would like to feel it on my own.  It is my ritual.  So I am still not good at dealing with sad phone calls from people I know.  (I don’t know what to say if they cry.)  I can handle somewhat If I am telling sad news about me.

However, I feel very uneasy when I am asked a question.  When I talk to my elder sister, I always talk about a funny story.

On the other hand, I would rather not be alone when I try to keep my chin up.  I would like to be surrounded by many people who support each other.  I truly appreciate the support from my friends at the time like this.  I met many people through this tragic earthquake.

There is no way that we can change this reality.  The house is gone; my parents are gone; the reality does not change.

If you ask me whether it is painful, it is not painful.
If you ask me whether I feel sad, I don’t’ feel sad.
Getting myself totally absorbed in my work and taking on new thing may be a good way to deal with grief.  A challenge to a new thing may bring a balance to my life.

These are my honest feelings.

I wonder how all of you are doing now.


NY that I Visited after 10 Years of Absence

NY that I Visited after 10 Years of Absence
May 29, 2011
As I wrote in the title of my blog, I like to travel.
It was in May of 2001 when I first visited the U. S. I travelled across the United States for full 3 months until my tourist visa expired. Starting from Seattle on the west coast, I went to Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, Chicago, New York and Miami.

I could not speak English very well, but with Leica in my hand, I went to different places in the three months and met various people. The experience I gained at that time became the foundation of what I am now.

One month after I returned from the trip to go across the United States, on Sept. 11, 2011, it happened.
The country, the United States, occupied an important part of my life. I became friends with many people and met with a lot of people. I felt that those important things were breaking down. I could not describe in words. 

I went to “September 11 Memorial & Museum” on May 22.
There were portraits of those people killed, high heels found at the site, burned windows from the airplanes. Firefighters who tried to rescue people. My heart was broken as if I traveled10 years back to the past. Still, 24 people are missing. I found that there were 1,100 bodies that could not be identified.

There are similarities with situations that we are now facing. Like my parents, many bodies have not been found. Even if their bodies are found from the ocean, I do not have confidence that I can identify them. How were the 10 years where people in N.Y. had to face with such agonies? It is very meaningful that we could exhibit photographs and have an opportunity to show drawings of children in such location.

I embarked on a ferry to Staten Island from Manhattan for the first time in 10 years. I shot the same scenery. Currently, a new building and a park are under construction on Ground Zero. What do people learn from there… I am going back to Onagawa today. 

What is a first class photographer …

What is a first class photographer …
May 28, 2011
A first-class photographer stopped by at the exhibition.
It was Peter Cunningham.  He shoots rock bands, documentary, the world of zen, etc.  What you see throughout his works is ‘human connection’.  His photographs depict spiritual world of human being.

I saw pictures of Bruce Sprinsteen in 1970s and Madonna in her early career on Mr. Cunningham’s  web site.  I have seen them all before!  Everything about his works is cool.  In spite of the fact that he just arrived in NY from Boston, he strolled into AIGA and
intensely looked at my photographs.  Without knowing his busy schedule, we talked a lot.  At first glance, he looks like ‘a strange old guy’(laugh), wearing a cap and with his CANON hanging around his neck.  But when you talk with him, you can easily connect to him.

‘There are no people in the landscape portraits of Onagawa city.  Did you intentionally exclude people or there are simply no people in the town?’, Mr. Cunningham asked.  He also gave me some advice to take pictures from the same spot on the hill every time I visit the town.
 On that day, there were TV crews in the gallery to interview me.  By the way, one of the crews invited Mr. Cunningham to the exhibition.  We suddenly decided to have a photo session.

The light in the gallery was a mix of natural light and tungsten light, which is not easy for shooting.  While I was wondering how I shoot and checking in my camera bag to pick up a right lens, Mr. Cummingham already started shooting (laugh).  He took the first move!

He was walking around me and taking pictures randomly.  I mean, it was really random. (laugh)  I had no idea how the photographs would turn out.  It was as if you were watching a student playing one of games on a school field day.  Even if somebody tells you he is the world-class photographer, he is just a funny old guy.

But, I was shocked when I saw his blog 

His pictures are…fantastic!!
They are the works of the first-class photographer.  His photographs capture the atmosphere and me in the gallery.
The game is over and I lost… Well, right from the beginning, the result was so obvious… LOL

On the other hand, this is what I took.
It is an ordinary portrait and nothing special.
It turned out OK just because Mr. Cunningham is photogenic. 

It does not mean anything to take a straight-forward portrait of this magnificent and ‘funny photographer’ (Sorry to call you funny, Mr. Cunningham!.  I am so disappointed that I could not depict real him.  There is a long way for me to go.

I don’t regret.  But I have been thinking what made the difference between Mr. Cunningham and me in the gallery on that day.  What does it mean to be ‘the first-class…’? It is a good homework for me to think about in the future.

NY School

NY School 
May 27, 2011
On May 19 I visited a Japanese school located in a NY suburb.   Despite short notice, the teachers were kind enough to allocate a “lecture” time for me by shortening their regular class hours.  I was very grateful for their thoughtfulness.

It appeared that the impact of the earthquake was felt in a big way by these children living abroad.  Japan is their home country wherever they are.  All of the children took initiative to hold a “charity concert“ on March 18.  They asked themselves what they could do to help.  As a result, they performed and raised money along with local people.  Some children baked and sold melon bread to raise money. They volunteered their labor to raise money…What a wonderful idea!   Such idea is rare in Japan.

Upon reviewing the question cards collected from the children, I found that their common question, regardless of their grades, was, “What happened to children in Japan?” They all wanted to know what was happening in Japan, their home land.

During the 1-hour session, first I briefly explained what type of tsunami devastated the town while presenting data.  Frightening photos may not be appropriate for young children. Showing a photo of a building tilted 90 degree angle, I asked, “Which side is a ceiling?” and explained why the building had ended up that way.    “How do you think a car got up on the third floor of the building?”  I though of ways to keep 1st graders to 6th graders interested.
“What do you think elementary school teachers in Onagawa want to have most? “  (ーAnswer: a play ground. A temporary housing compound doesn’t have one.
“What is the most popular job among Onagawa elementary school children?
  (ー Answer: a member of Japan self-defense force

I think that the quiz session made it easy for lower grade children to understand.  Also I think that I was able to convey that kids in the disaster areas were cheerful and doing their best.

At the end of the lecture, the students presented me with a chorus.  It was a lovely song,“You Can, Ai-no-Kuni (the country of love).” It was one of the songs sung at the March 18th charity concert. A kind of song that gives the audience energy…a song about everyone is connected… I wish they could some day sing together with Onagawa school children.  These students drew pictures and wrote messages on Japanese paper.    As one of “Hug Japan” activities, we want to continue spreading the “Message Relay.” 

Hug Japan in NY

Hug Japan in NY
May 25, 2011
It was great to work with a group of people organized in NY.
Thank you so much!
I am not alone!  I can keep going with this group, I thought.
Here we are....

Potentiality of Art

Potentiality of Art
May 19, 2011
There were many galleries in the Chelsea district of NY, which scattered conveniently here and there.  It is free of charge and you can just stop by whenever you feel like it.  It is a good change when you are close to a conclusion with things you are working on (smile).  Displayed were a lot of modern arts that I am unfamiliar with.  Although it’s a matter of taste, I felt that after all this was NY and I wished that Japan would become a place like this.

Among the galleries, there was a gallery that had several displays of dynamic objets d’art made of steel frames and car bumpers.  I would have been gazing into these several months ago, saying “How cool!”  However, here I thought frankly that the cars in Onagawa looked great (smile).  The cars twisted and bent by the forces of the tsunami could become an art, I was firmly convinced.

After the 311 disaster, my view on things had totally changed.  No art can surpass a formation by the nature, no matter what they are and no matter who made the arts.

Meat Market district was located in the southwestern part of Manhattan.  I strolled in the promenade called High Line which was the modification of the old, discontinued railroad.  The wooden deck that extended straight from North to South commanded a view of the railroad along the way here and there.  The meticulously cared garden and properly-calculated, yet pleasing placement of benches added to this promenade an alluring taste that blends into old buildings in Manhattan.  It made me feel like that I want to take a walk every day.
What a good sense they have for remodeling the railroad!  While strolling, I was thinking about a restoration model for Onagawa.  The coastline of Onagawa has sunk and people are afraid of building houses again because of another possible tsunami.  However, if the land can be utilized effectively, it might be better to build a park like High Line Park of NY on the coastal road.
Thinking about planting a lot of plants in the places where many lives were lost, I was strolling in an obscure corner of Manhattan in the twilight.  As the evening draws in, I also enjoyed the transformation of NY in 10 years.