I’m back home in Tokyo, after a month at sea, voyaging to the Antarctic, the Falkland Islands and Patagonia. It’s been over a month since the last episode, which I released literally as my studio started to shake in that terrible quake that devastated much of Northern Japan on March 11. It’s been a life changing month in many ways, so rather than just proceeding straight on with the Snow Monkey and Hokkaido Tour series of Podcasts, which I will be doing straight after this, today I thought I’d just record a quick update, to let you know how Japan was effected by the quake, and suggest some possibly ways in which we can help.
I was at home when the quake hit on March 11, with a friend, Marcus Bain, one of the contributing members of the MBP Community over. I had recorded episode 279 in the morning, and had a few more buttons to press to get it released, so I left Marcus downstairs chatting with my wife while I went up to my studio to release the episode. Literally as I pressed the publish button and updated the Podcast feeds, my monitor started to judder, which is my early warning that a quake is starting.
I ran downstairs exclaiming that a quake was starting, but Marcus and my wife hadn’t felt it yet. As I emerged from the staircase, the apartment started to shake, and we all put on our shoes and went out to the car park. For what seemed like an eternity, the car park shook up and down and around and around. I watched my car moving all over the place to my left, and then as I looked across to my right, at the allotments next to our apartment, I could see the ground undulating, not dissimilar to the rough seas I would experience getting down to the Antarctic in the weeks between then and now.
Other people started to come outside and our neighbor came running home in his suite, obviously he works nearby, and ran into his second floor apartment, presumably to ensure that his wife and daughter were OK. Our 3 story apartment building was flexing and moving around as well, as the quake continued to rock and roll us for a number of minutes. We thought it was never going to stop!
When it finally did stop, we went back inside to find that apart from our sliding doors opening, and an ornament or two falling over, nothing was damaged. Before we could get our heads around what had happened though, another quake came. This time I grabbed my backup hard disks and laptop, before we made our way back out to the car park. I managed to write a tweet on Twitter as I sat in the car park, rocking around still.
It really was a scary and surreal experience, but that was to be just the start. We turned on the TV to see what had happened, and found that the quake had occurred hundreds of kilometers away, to our north-east, along the east coast of northern Japan. This made it even harder to believe that the quake had been so strong in Tokyo, and I started to wonder just how strong it had been closer to the epicenter. It turns out, after an update a few days later, that the quake had been a magnitude 9.0, making it one of a handful of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded.
As we watched the updates, it soon became obvious that the power of the quake itself was not what was to be so devastating about this quake. Marcus, my wife and I sat in our living room in disbelief, as the images of the tsunami that pounded the coastal areas of northern Japan started to roll in. We watched the same images that would soon become familiar to most of you too, as the news of the quake and the tsunami propagated out around the world. Whole towns were swallowed up. Ships washed up into the towns and even airports were laid waste by the relentless waters.
Our plans for a day of fun, that would involve copious amounts of alcohol and grilled meat evaporated, as we started to call around to loved ones, to ensure that they were alright. The land lines were out though, and our cell phones were almost as useless. My wife’s family are all based in Fukushima, the prefecture with the Nuclear Power Plant that has pretty much melted down in the aftermath of the quake. I went to college and have many friends in Miyagi, the next Prefecture up, which was one of the worse hit by tsunami. Marcus couldn’t confirm that his wife and small son were OK, and the tsunami warnings flashing on our TV indicated that his apartment, close to the sea, was also in danger.
The trains had stopped running, and many areas had power outages, and without the phones to confirm if anyone was OK, we decided to drive Marcus home. The 50km drive, that should have taken just over an hour took five hours. The roads were full of cars, with people trying to get home too. On the way, having tried perhaps 40 or 50 times, I finally got a call through to my wife’s older sister, and confirmed that she and her husband were OK. We managed to get Marcus home by around 10PM and he was able to confirm that his wife and son had gone to their parent’s home, and were safe. Luckily, one of the highways reopened as we drove home, so we got back home shortly after midnight. On the way though we seen people that had obviously spend 9 hours or so walking home from the city center. Some just looked incredibly weiry, having walked some 30 kilometers or so, and others were limping, or being propped up by their friends, with their faces twisted by what was probably considerable fatigue and physical pain.
It would be the following morning before we would find out that the rest of our immediate family were OK, and a few days before I confirmed that my main circle of friends from college were all OK too. Some people had damaged property, and some friends had lost property and cars, but not their lives, thankfully.
With the death toll at well over 10,000 already, and what seemed like almost constant aftershocks, even in Tokyo, I had a difficult decision to make. On March 15th, just four days after the quake, I had plans to leave Japan to co-host a photography expedition to Antarctica with Australian photographer David Burren. I’d already switched expeditions from one in November 2010, and really couldn’t let David down again, so I decided to leave my wife to brave the aftershocks and possibility of a larger quake in Tokyo, and fulfill my responsibilities as a photographer.
The expedition was a great success. I got back home again on April 18, and have spent the last week making up for my being away from home for a month, and making my final selection of images. Having uploaded my images to Flickr and my own Gallery, on Monday we got up early, and drove to Fukushima to quickly see family and a few friends. It’s customary in Japan to put some money into an envelope for people that have experienced hardship, and so we did this two days ago. My wife didn’t want to send the money by post, and it really was nice to see our friends and family face to face.
It felt strange to be in a place just 50km or so from a nuclear power plant that is spewing out radiation, and causing thousands of evacuees to live in temporary accommodation, and many are living in the gym of schools etc. while they wait for temporary accommodation to become available. I can’t believe though that there has been reports discrimination against the people of Fukushima as they move out to the surrounding prefectures to avoid the radiation. Lack of understanding of the facts and fear can drive usually kind and friendly people to do things that they will hopefully learn to regret. I personally would rather face the risk of radiation than avoid friends that live in the area. They, after all, have no choice. With them not being in the evacuation zone, they would get no financial help from the government if they left their homes.
The People of Fukushima Deserve Better
With the nuclear power plant still far from being under control, tension is high in Fukushima, but I hope that the people of Japan, and those of you around the world listening to this, will not discriminate against the brave people of Fukushima. For decades they have lived with the nuclear risk to provide power for the city of Tokyo, 300km south. It tears me apart to think that some people are now discriminating against the people of Fukushima, as though they had leprosy or something.
We still don’t know how long it will take to get the nuclear power plant under control, and even worse, we still don’t know how long it will take before people can return to their homes in the evacuation zone. Maybe many won’t be able to move back in their lifetimes. Hopefully though the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company will ensure that all of those affected are duly compensation for their loss and unfathomable inconvenience.
Of course there are still tens of thousands of people that have lost their homes to the tsunami, and whole towns that need to be cleared and rebuilt. The farming areas that were filled with seawater are now unusable until the salt is removed from the land. Companies affected have run into financial difficulties and had to lay off staff in some cases, which means that people have not only lost their property, some have lost their jobs making it even more difficult to rebuilt their lives in the foreseeable future.
How Can We Help?
When I got home from Antarctica, my wife joked that I had chosen a bad time to give up my UK citizenship, and become a Japanese national. It was only a joke of course, as we are both very happy that I was able to become a Japanese citizen. The terrible events of March 11 have if anything, made me even more proud to be Japanese, and I have spent a lot of time over the last month trying to figure out how I might possibly be able to help my adopted countrymen, and of course more importantly, fellow human beings, to recover from this disaster.
I’m in the incredibly fortunate position to have a way to contact thousands of people to deliver my message, and you are currently listening to (or reading) it. From an early stage, I put links to make donations to help Japan through the Red-Cross onto my Web sites. Analytic data from my sites shows that many of you have already made a donation, for which I am truly grateful.
Prints for Japan Project
I continued to think of a way that I could provide you with a way for you to not only help Japan, but for some way in which you would get something back in return. Having giving this much thought, I’ve decided to start what I’m calling the Prints for Japan Project. For the next three months, until at least July 31, 2011 [was extended to Sept 25], I am going to donate 30% of the price of all fine art prints that I sell to the Japanese Red-Cross Society.
I have to emphasize up front that there is still some profit in this for me after covering materials. Having just taken the plunge to make photography my only source of income, I cannot afford to give all of the profit from prints at this time. Although highly doubtful, if for example I should get so many print orders that I spend the next three months printing and shipping fine art prints, I would not be able to do any other work, and therefore would not be able to support my family, and that wouldn’t do.
Please think of this as an offer for any of you that have at some point thought of buying one or two of my prints, but didn’t quite take the plunge. With this little incentive, you could not only get that print that you’ve been hankering after, but you would be donating 30% of the price to a very worthwhile cause. I will of course report the amount of money that you helped to raise via my Web site and this Podcast over the next three months, so that you can see how much we, the MBP community, have been able to help Japan to recover from this disaster.
To buy prints, you simply need to go to my gallery at [link no longer available], and navigate to a photo that you like, then click the shopping cart button above the image. Once you click the cart button, the print options for your order will appear below the image, and you can select your currency, type of paper, and print size. You can also select whether or not you want a border for your print, and for me to sign and stamp the print. The print will be shipped to you rolled in a sturdy tube, for you to have framed locally. Shipping in a frame from Japan is not practical, so note that the print cost is for a rolled fine art print, proofed and printed personally by me, on top quality archival paper.
If you don’t already have a favorite photo, here are some suggestions. I tried to select some images that represent the beauty and serenity of this amazing country. Of course, these are all my own photos, and will reproduce in any of the sizes selectable in my site’s shopping cart system, which is up to 24×36″.
You might select something new, like this recent shot of two Red-Crowned Cranes doing a courting dance in the snow, which is very Japanese.
Or maybe this shot of an old tree, with three swans flying past, which is kind of like a traditional Japanese painting.
Also, I know the context of this will not be for everyone, but my shot of a line of fishing boats is actually just the sort of scene that will have been destroyed by the March 11 tsunami, if you’d prefer to link your image to the event in that way.
Of course, in addition to these newer photographs, there are some of my older classics, such as the Lone Tree on a Hill, in a snowstorm shot.
And Distant Dance, which never disappoints my customers.
If you aren’t necessarily interested in the Japan theme, you might want to take a look at some of the work from my recent trip to Antarctica, which is also now uploaded to my gallery. For example, one of my favorite images from the trip is a two-minute exposure of an Antarctic landscape, with some Gentoo penguins that were kind enough to stay still for the entire two minutes.
Of course, there’re many more images to choose from too, such as my dreamy Flowerscapes. These are all nothing more than examples though, and if you have time to look through the gallery for something that jumps out at you, please do. If you want to skim quickly through all photos from all genres, you might want to use the Cooliris Wall feature on my site, by scrolling down to the middle of the gallery page at [link no longer available]. You’ll need to use a flash enabled browser for this to work mind. Note too that if you hit the full-screen button in the bottom right corner of the Cooliris window, your browser will open in full screen mode, and allow you to really skim through the images quickly using your mouse or arrow keys.
I do want to stress again though that this offer is only for those of you that have considered buying a print in the past or would really like one. It’s my way of helping you to help Japan, with my donation of 30% of the print cost. If you’d rather give directly to Japan, please do ahead and do so. If you click on the Donate to Japan button in the toolbar at the bottom of all my Web site, you’ll be taken to the Donation page at the American Red-Cross. If you’d prefer to donate to your national Red-Cross Society, and have the aid redirected from their, I’ll put a link to all of the Red-Cross or Red-Crescent Society pages worldwide into this episode’s show-notes, or type https://mbp.ac/rc in your browser to be redirected there.
Note too that I am going to add the ability to buy canvas prints of my images directly from my site in the coming weeks too. If you would prefer a canvas print, please drop me a line, and I’ll keep you updated as I add these options to my shopping cart. They’ll be a bit more expensive of course, but that just means that we donate more cash to the Japanese Red-Cross, and help Japan to recover from this terrible disaster.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Japan is hurting bad right now, and really needs your help, however you are able to make that help available.
With our Prints for Japan project we raised a total of $852.89 / ¥64,820 to help Japan to recover from the March 11 Eastern Japan disasters.
UPDATED September 30, 2011
The Prints for Japan project raised a total of $852.89 (¥64,820) to help Japan to recover from the 3/11 disasters. These funds have now been transferred to the Japanese Red Cross Society — Thank You!!!
Red Cross Worldwide: https://mbp.ac/rc
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