On the Other Side:
I was planning to go to the Pamirs in Tajikistan this August. It’s such a beautiful place with friendly, hospitable people. But now, it doesn’t seem as peaceful as it’s been in the recent years, to say the least.
Those are photographs of the Afghanistan shot from the Tajikistan side. The view from the other side goes on and on with rocky walls, across which a narrow rugged road stretches like a thin line. It’s just on the other side of the river, narrow and shallow enough to find some points you can probably just cross on foot. But, you don’t unless you are traffickers or locals visiting their relatives living on the other side. The river cuts the two sides apart further than it physically is. Only 10 meter away from this side is Afghanistan, and the wild thin line on that side of the rugged valley somehow reassures my preconceived idea of what Afghanistan is, whether it’s true not. In fact, people on the other side are mostly Pamiris like on this side. But, the decades-old border, which divided Afghan and the Soviet, also cuts frequent communications between them, politically and culturally. Yet, the recent unrest may be foreshadowing some changes in the region. Though, I really hope that things will be fine soon.
It’s almost winter, and I realize that I haven’t updated a blog for quite a while.
Have been shooting periodically. This is a part of what I’ve been working on since summer:
Will update more from this later…
Also, traveled to Lugano, Switzerland for the reflexions masterclass and shot some pics during the masterclass and also for myself. I really liked it there..
Long time no post. A photo essay with some texts published on Eurasianet. More photos and text here:
Pictures from Rikuzentakada and Oofunato, I’m already back in Almaty..
Already left Japan and back in Almaty. The last trip to Japan was something that made me think whether I I want or not, and something uncomfortable still remains in my guts.
First time I heard about the earthquake and Tsunami, I was in Almaty, preparing for the next project. I was very concerned, as I couldn’t get a hold of my parents living in near Tokyo, where phone wasn’t working. But, I didn’t go. Next day, I got ahold with them and heard they were alright but started hearing about the devastation in the north. But, I didn’t buy a plane ticket although I checked the price, which was not so cheap… Although my citizenship is Japanese, honestly, I’m far from a patriot, being away from the country for 8 years except that I visited there just three times in that period. I am not so into sort of parachuting into the disaster, either, let alone that no one commissions me for this. So, I was like, well, it’s not my job, and I don’t know what I can add to this – there will be a lot of good photogs there anyways. I had some ideas doing differently, but the costs and fear for a reverse cultural shock kept me from flying.
But then, when the nuclear plants started collapsing, I couldn’t sit and watch in the end. If Japan could become no-man’s land, then it’s a different story. So, I flew.
Arriving in Tokyo, people were much calmer than I thought. A lot of people do what they do everyday. None of people I knew left Tokyo and the surrounding cities while hearing from news and some sources that there will be huge explosions in the reactors, which could cause a huge panic even in Tokyo. So, I waited to see what will happen while buying water and stock foods. But, in the end, things didn’t go as catastrophic as some feared, which is off course good. Then, I tried to do a story from a different angle and hooked up with an organization planning to go to the north and help. But, it didn’t work out in the end after waiting for a few days.. Going to the north needed a car, and I don’t even have a drivers license while the gas was running very short…
Then, I got some work with a Russian magazine, but it was in Tokyo. Upon finishing the work, two weeks had already passed after the earthquake and tsunami… Yeah, it’s late – very late for news, to say the least. But, there was a bus to the north as the highway opened. It wasn’t as expensive to go to the north by then and also got some photo requests. So, I grabbed a panorama, holga and digital and finally left for Tohoku, where suffering continues. I still had some hope that shooting with panorama and holga could add something…
I heard some publication was looking for some photos in Rikuzentakada, one of the worst hit areas, so I headed there by bus. But, it turned out that there is no way to get there by public transportation… Taxi to there was more expensive than I thought – $230 after some discount by a taxi driver whose wife happened to be from where I grew up… Japan is no central Asia or Ukraine. No taxi driver works for $50 for 100 km of drive.. And, they are all hired by companies…
Arriving in Rikuzentakada, I finally understood what happened in the long coast line in the north. And, what was really the news in the whole event. Two weeks later, still rubble everywhere. I walked around and photographed in the area completely destroyed by tsunami. I saw a few people occasionally, looking for their belongings out of the rubble. I somehow got to the school where the evacuees were. And, I was able to stay there for one night. A kind Japanese photographer took me around by a car and also helped me stay in the place. I felt awkward because I came so late while paying much more attention to the reactors rather than tsunami and because I can’t really do anything to the victims…
The next day I shot some more pics by digital and film and left the town to send pictures. I hitchhiked for the first time in Japan… People helped me… They don’t even accept money for gas. Japan is different… I filed pics in a city. I got an e-mail offering a work, but it soon turned out that they chose another person because I can’t drive… Then, I decided to go home. I wasn’t confident if my panorama work would really add something. It’s financially tough, and not much prospect getting more working given that I can’t drive. And, photographing victims might cause what Japanese people say is meiwaku (nuisance)… Volunteering one day and photographing another day was an option. But again, financial reason, and honestly, stress accumulated day by day after I arrived in Japan. Put it in this way – I had a serious reverse culture shock… Being in touhoku was actually much better than in the Tokyo area, which gives me some awkwardness constantly and reminds me of some trauma.. People in touhoku are much more laid back even in that situation. People were so kind and polite. And, I felt a lot of respect to so many people I met during the stay in Japan. But, It was still tough mentally… And, I felt like an idiot for struggling from reverse culture shock – a lot Japanese people get united and are determined to tackle the problems while the people in the north and around the reactors are suffering… Well, maybe i just don’t belong to it..
So, I left Touhoku, came back to Tokyo and went to Kyushu, where my sister and her husband live. It was the first time I met her husband… The south was different. Sakura was blossoming, and everything seemed peaceful and normal. In fact, part of reason I left Japan was too peaceful. But, I appreciated it so much this time. I couldn’t imagine things like this happen in Japan. And, the devastation was much worse than I thought. Maybe, I should have come earlier. Probably, yes.
Coming back to Almaty, which is so different from Japan. I felt home, as I’ve been in the ex-Soviet countries for three years. Japan was so organized. And, people were so polite. And, so crowded even after tons of foreigners left. Anyway, outside of Japan, I don’t have to think so much… I scanned pics that I shot in two days in rikuzentakada. It was better than I pre-visualised. Felt like I should have stayed and continued. Maybe, I could have made something to add, though it may still end up in self-satisfaction.. It may be just photojournalistic egoism, which I hate though I see value in it sometimes. Well, good intention can sometimes lead bad results, and vice versa. And, I chose to do little this time because I wasn’t sure. But, if you think in this way, you shouldn’t take pictures to begin with… I still think I made logical decisions. But, I made the whole got complicated in never-ending self-contemplation similar to what I had in my teenage years in Japan… Well, I should just try to buy more Japanese products and be more positive about the country. I was very negative about a lot things about Japan, especially the system and mentality. The whole event showed more good sides of Japan than negative ones – patience, politeness, strong sense of justice and calmness, which prevented panic, looting and so on. On the other hand, it was probably true that all the bureaucratic problems and lack of the leadership also led the reactor problems, which have not yet been solved. The whole thing was very sad, but there is a lot of hope left.
I’m still waiting in Tokyo until an organization, which plans to take me to the north, decides to go. I re-edited some pics from Tokyo, which has been not so normal. I never liked Tokyo so much because of too many people, but it made me sad to see so few people… But, things are getting stable for now, fortunately.
Back in Japan and Tokyo. And snapped some pics while getting ready. People are worried. Some are leaving. Some are confused. Some don’t know what to do. Some believe it will be ok. Others are determined to stay no matter what. A lot of people don’t want to abandon Tokyo. Some accept the situation as destiny somehow. Seems like people are getting ready for what’s next. Yet, no one can’t apprehend the situation and can’t believe what is happening and what might be happening in the coming days. Me neither.