Thank you all again for your kindness, your emails, telephone calls, and well wishes were all taken to heart. I am relieved my family, friends, and co-workers are safe and sound. I wish I were able to say the same for the entire population of Japan.
I and several of my colleagues have been warning for years that technological advances and propaganda heavily promoting certain industries have led to a false sense of security when dealing with climate change and the added intensity of natural disasters, such as typhoons. It is paramount to understand and respond to the evidence that globally, storms are getting stronger as a result of climate change, and we must invest more heavily in disaster prevention for our safety and the next generations. The scientific community has been warning about the trend toward more extreme weather for years, including intensifying cyclones and hurricanes.
In Japan, cleanup efforts are underway after the typhoon ravaged Japan last Saturday, and the losses and extent of damages are slowly coming to light. Across Japan, over 200 rivers breached their banks/overflowed. Levees burst on over 50 rivers, causing flood damage to tens of thousands of houses across Japan. There have been over 150 mudslides reported as of today. The full extent of the damage is still being assessed, and it may take weeks to know the full extent of the damages. In parts of Japan, evacuation orders are still in effect, and details are unclear. Entire villages are underwater, and shinkansen trains at a depot in Nagano remain underwater.
Fukushima Prefecture sadly saw the highest number of human casualties. My thoughts and prayers are with the residents and friends who reside in a location that was once one of my favorite places to visit and photograph. Up until 2011, Fukushima Prefecture was known at Tokyo’s food belt, but since 2011 and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster and the exploding reactor spewing radioactive materials into the atmosphere and contaminating the region's fertile agricultural soil, this is no longer plausible. Regrettably, Tokyo and neighboring prefectures were also contaminated, but the Sea of Japan and residents just 100km away in Niigata Prefecture had approximately 90% or less radioactive contamination than Tokyo due to Alpine Mountain ranges bordering Niigata and Fukushima which acts as a natural barrier-wall between Fukushima and The Sea Of Japan side of Japan. Actually, Niigata and The Sea Of Japan side of Japan has less contamination in the ocean waters than in the Pacific Ocean side of Canada and the USA.
Super Typhoon Hagibis hit Fukushima hard, and the 150 km/hour plus winds with gusts over 200 km/hour tore across the small town of Tamura where many 1-cubic meter sized one-ton bags used to collect greenery after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami were stored. We are just now learning that a multitude of these storage bags containing highly Nuclear-contaminated soil and greenery have been washed into river systems, and bags stored along the Pacific coastline were washed into the Pacific Ocean, hampering cleanup efforts and workers safety as far away as neighboring prefectures. The Sea Of Japan has been excluded from this fallout due to its natural alpine barrier. Always being aware of my surroundings and safety, this is where I have set up another home and satellite office. Moreover, my family lives here for about eight months of the year. I moved my family several years ago due to my concerns over food safety in the Kanto Region and other environmental issues where I still have my main home and studio.
Meanwhile, rice and vegetable farming mere kilometers away from the nuclear plant explosion resumed in full swing several years ago, and that rice and vegetables is being consumed in the Kanto Region, mainly in restaurants and supermarket’s cooked foods. Most residents of the Kanto Region will not buy rice or foods grown in Fukushima, but they are buying lunch boxes/take-out store made food at the shopping centers, and of course, at restaurants. Even though many residents are vigilant in one respect of their lives, they are still falling prey to the perils of contaminated food unaware of its origin. Ironically, my family and I are now closer to the Fukushima nuclear plant then we were in Tokyo, but due to the natural alpine barrier-wall, we are actually safer.
Whether it’s my family’s safety or clients visiting Japan on photography tours, safety is always my number one concern. Of course, I hold myself to the same level of safety and security when I’m traveling and photographing internationally, with friends or group photography workshops I am leading.
As a final word of caution, as I mentioned in my previous newsletter, if you want to take a photography adventure tour safely anywhere on our planet, make sure you travel with an experienced adventurer who has a full team and has logged at least months, preferably years in the region’s where you are planning your itinerary. Your leader should understand the weather patterns for the four seasons and have knowledge of emergency evacuation procedures, being 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 adventurer 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 Papua, New Guinea 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. Recently, I am seeing a disturbing trend in ‘tourist’ photo leadership, guides who simply don’t seem prepared for scenarios where client safety could be tested. Safety should always be the number one priority.
I hope you choose to travel with us on your next photography adventure workshop tour. Traveling with us you know you will be with a well-prepared team, and your well-being is our first thought.