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Japan Disaster 3rd Anniversary

Photographer: Everett Kennedy Brown

 

This photo essay focuses on the activities of 39 year old Michitane Soma, the 34th generation lord of the Soma feudal domain in which the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant is located, in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, ahead of the 3rd anniversary of the 11 March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.

 

Thirty percent of the Soma domain is located within the mandated evacuation zone, the area twenty kilometers in proximity to the toxic power plant that is now uninhabitable. In the remaining inhabitable area, the majority of the residents have returned and the schools are now back to over 60 percent of pre-disaster attendance figures.

 

The economic situation of the area still suffers. Michitane Soma lost his large scale mushroom farming business due to the high levels of radiation found at his facilities, located 34 kilometers from the damaged power plant. The once abundant local fishing industry has also been destroyed. The local economy is now dependent on government funded reconstruction and decontamination projects in the local area. In the uninhabitable village of Odaka, one billion dollars has been spent in decontamination efforts which have still not achieved satisfactory results. Nevertheless, nearly half of the former residents, mostly elderly people return to the area almost daily to maintain the upkeep of their homes and assist in clean-up efforts.

 

The feudal system in Japan was abolished 150 years ago, but many of the old traditions remain strong in the Soma area. In particular the samurai horseman tradition, that dates back over 800 years. Over 400 local residents still keep samurai horses and proudly participate in the annual samurai house riding festival, held every July.

 

Michitane Soma relocated his business activities to the mountains of Hiroshima, western Japan, following the 2011 disaster. He is now making plans to relocate local families to Hiroshima to create a new Soma community. Nevertheless, every month he returns to Soma to fulfill his duties as local lord. He meets with local residents to hear their needs, and with government officials to exchange information on redevelopment efforts. His presence in Soma is very much spiritual. He reminds the local residents of their long and strong samurai heritage. According to Soma, “If you look at our long history we have overcome disasters, such war and famine that were much worse than what we now face. We must remember our strong heritage to overcome this disaster. It may take one hundred years, but our ancestors have shown us that we have the strength to do it.”