Super Typhoon Hagibis, the largest of 2019, and is currently a huge Category 5 storm making waves in the Pacific, ready to strike and make landfall in Japan this Saturday or Sunday. A month ago, many may recall I was in a predicament when Typhoon Faxai slammed ashore in the City of Chiba, just east of Tokyo, the strongest ever recorded in the Kanto region.
Brace yourself, everyone.
Super Typhoon Hagibis is going to make landfall this weekend on the Kanto Region Coastline, but we won’t know the precise location until 1 - 2 hours before it hits, but about 12 hours before, this havoc maker slams ashore the meteorological agency will supply a chart predicting the trajectory online plus to media/TV and Radio. Sirens will sound in communities and announce to residents no matter the time of day or night information of the pending dangers long before, and announcements and sirens will be heard during the storm. Also, emergency vehicles, mainly fire trucks with loudspeakers, will drive through communities most prone to mudslides, flooding, and those to be slammed with heavy winds that may reach two hundred KM per from the coming havoc making typhoon, warning residents of the pending dangers and asking them to evacuate, especially along the coastline where the tropical cyclone will strike first! I do rely on and support our local agencies. However, I don’t rely exclusively on online resources, and I don't own a tv also when power grids and/or internet towers go down, signals are lost, then obtaining information becomes impossible. To combat this, rescuers, first responders, military, and other government agencies, and some officials are trained in the know how to use old-fashioned methods. I use these methods because I have been tutored since my childhood to do so and I have put boot to ground on every continent and kissed both poles, and I will use analog over digital any day of the week, twice on Sunday, a legacy left over from my film camera using days. Methods such as Radiofax, also known as HF FAX, radiofacsimile, or weatherfax, is a means of broadcasting graphic weather maps and other graphic images via HF radio. HF radiofax is also known as WEFAX, although this term is generally used to refer to the reception of weather charts and imagery via satellite. Maps are received using a dedicated radiofax receiver or a single sideband (SSB) shortwave receiver connected to an external facsimile recorder or PC/ equipped with a radiofax interface and application software.
A month ago, using digital technologies, I discovered that Super Typhoon Faxai was on a collision course with my mountain retreat home. As soon as I realized what was coming, I put my Mac down and returned to my trusty analog tools to understand the true scope of what was evolving and to hear the ship's captains and others over the airwaves warnings and predictions of what was soon to arrive and make landfall. I made the decision to evacuate the home based on their recommendations and what I saw on the weather charts. My experience told me to consult with local officials, but in our small mountain village in Kanagawa, the local residences are the officials without much emergency training or the know-how to properly read weather charts, and all they could do is parrot the news reports back to me and give me internet and mass media updates. Hearing this, and with a typhoon lined up to directly hit us, I walked away and made an informed decision to keep my family safe and evacuated to our city home. Lucky for us, it missed Kanagawa by a hair. It was not fortunate for Chiba and the Narita Airport region. They got slammed (DIRECT LANDFALL) by the Super Typhoon Faxai. In the aftermath, nearly one million buildings were without power. Weeks after, hundreds of thousands of homes were still without electricity or water, and a heatwave gripped the region, foods, and other daily necessities became luxury for the people of Chiba Prefecture where Narita Airport is located just across from Tokyo-Wan-Bay. As of this morning, October 10th, over a month after the storm, there is a 2 kilometer line of construction vehicles and private vehicles racing against time to rid the region of trash from fallen homes and renovations before the possibility of another direct hit by Super Typhoon Hagibis this weekend.
It never ceases to amaze me as an experienced rescuer how detached and or inexperienced most humans can be, especially the local folk when faced with an oncoming natural disaster and the consequences they can deliver. I understand they are hoping for the best, but when they (wish each other luck) and I hear it, I get a bad feeling! Luck has nothing to do with being smart and safe! Being prepared and listening to authorities does! In Chiba, Japan's case Residents across the city of Chiba and the Narita International Airport region were warned but did not heed beforehand, and when the typhoon made landfall and rudely disturbed their peaceful slumber. In one area, a 24 meter (nearly 80 feet) golf driving range safety netting, with poles attached, plummeted into the second floor of their homes in some cases bisecting their second floor.
Nikko Photo Tour 2015 - The Origin Story of Extreme Weather and Nikko Photography Workshop Tour
In 2015, I was leading my annual Nikko Pre-Autumn Photography Tour/Workshop when Super Typhoon Etau slammed into Kanto, Japan. Torrential rains laid waste to a small city north of Tokyo. Houses were ripped out of their foundations, trees were uprooted, and hundreds of thousands of residents were forcibly evacuated. In one incident, one of the buildings that was part of the Kinugawa Grand Plaza Hotel was swept away by the raging river created by the Super Typhoon Etau’s rainfall. Heavy winds and the fallout from the typhoon caused extreme travel chaos. No one knew what to do because they relied on TV, Radio reports, and internet information, not me.
On that fateful morning, I woke up to birds chirping and beautiful skies at our lodgings. After luxuriating in my morning onsen ritual, clients were sitting enjoying breakfast, and I sat down to join in on the morning meal. Then, the hotel owner came in to alert us of the incoming typhoon, and the magnitude of the situation and told us we couldn’t stay that night. He reported that we had to evacuate his lodgings and leave Nikko. All I had were questions. He was giving me information with no backing besides the News and TV reports. We had breakfast and checked out. I then traveled directly to the first responder's government agency to get information based on facts. As we left the hotel, I could see the exodus of tourists and the buses that brought them. Once we reached the agency building, everything was suspiciously still. I was in shock. I got out of the vehicle with my staff and talked to the fire chief and asked him, “So, what do I do?” They were overwhelmed and more than helpful because someone had the good sense to ask about the correct course of action. The chief showed me the weather charts and the course of the Super Typhoon approaching.
We could see that there was only a small window of time to get from Nikko to Tokyo before people would be stranded in transit. The highways were soon to be clogged with hundreds of thousands of tourists who were all going the wrong way. The Aerial photo below shows only one small section of highway and region and where the river water had overflowed the roads, making them impassible. In fact, there were now 10 km lakes in many areas where there hadn’t been before. Over 50% of those who had fled were stuck for three days before the waters receded. Military helicopters plucked stranded residents from roofs after waters surged over a wide area when the raging Kinugawa river burst its banks in Joso, north of Tokyo, swamping the city of 65,000 people. Dramatic aerial footage showed whole houses being swept away by raging torrents, in scenes eerily reminiscent of the devastating tsunami that crushed Japan's north-east coast in 2011.
That afternoon, my group and I checked into a comfortable lodging declared safe by the Nikko government agency, and we continued our photo tour/workshop of Nikko. That evening, we enjoyed dinner and good company, but as a precaution, I limited libations to a one-drink maximum per person. The typhoon passed that night with no impact on us. The rain continued until the middle of the next day while we photographed in Nikko. Moreover, the city is naturally fortified, so there was little wind, just rain to contend with. Nikko holds the most lavishly decorated mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, so we and the residents of Nikko knew we were safe. The city was founded in 766, in the middle of a mountain with perfect drainage. Water flows away from Nikko, but it doesn’t linger for long in the city. Below Nikko, about 20 kilometers, is a plateau, a yellow-red zone, where we were told to stay away from. This is the same region where the hotel building went mobile, and some of the tourists who left Nikko that morning were stranded and couldn’t get to safety.
As a final word of caution, if you want to take a Japan photography tour safely, make sure you travel with an experienced adventurer who has a full team and has logged months or preferably years in the region’s planned itinerary. Your leader should understand the weather patterns for the four seasons and have knowledge of emergency evacuation procedures, prepared for anything that could happen.
Also, there’s an unwritten rule that professionals, especially professional photographers that we don’t openly detract from colleagues. However, there are cases where something has to be said to protect our industry and the integrity of the visual artists who have logged the requisite hours in a certain region to make sure the client is safe. I wouldn’t want to visit PNG with a person who had only explored the location for a week under the guidance of a well-trained, veteran travel adventurer. There are hazards such as head hunters, insects, wild animal attacks, and the rarest, natural disasters, or the more common bad weather can come rolling in fast, and if you’re not ready, you’ll be caught with your pants “down,” not joking.
In one such case, while perusing Hokkaido Winter Photo Tours on the internet, I saw an itinerary proposed a leader with lacking experience. In his own words, “I've recently returned from Hokkaido, Japan, where I spent a week researching my 2019 photo tour.” Because of his lack of safety procedures and respect for his clients’ safety, I would never partner with him, and I worry about what could happen to clients if foul weather or disaster struck. Also, strangely, his route on his website shows a road that is 100% closed from mid-October until April, no ifs, ands, or buts. I have been a local in the region for more than 20 years.
Just to show you, the reader, possibly seeking your photography adventure of a lifetime, how careless some inexperienced photo tour leaders can be, I've attached the government's official link and photos along with the itinerary from the leader's website. http://northern-road.jp/navi/eng/closed_winter.htm Government managed website highlighting the road closure during winter. I feel bad for websites who are not performing their due diligence when vetting photo tour article’s contents such as the road closure in the images that you see below.
As a pro, I will not openly disclose these photography webpages, but if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me. And I will be more than happy to guide you to photography sites I trust.