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Inside Tokyo: One Photographer’s View

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Inside Tokyo: One Photographer’s View

Inside Tokyo: One Photographer’s View

Written for MCP Actions by Dave Powell, a photographer living in Tokyo, Japan

It has been a surreal past few days for those of us living in Tokyo. I can only image it is much harder for those living in the parts of Japan that were much more affected by the events of the recent days.  I have lived in Tokyo for 10 years and earthquakes are just a part of daily life.  Typically there is a little rattling, some shaking, you are a little uncomfortable but then it passes relatively quickly.   A few seconds into this one it was obvious by the mounting force that it was much different and at magnitude 9.0 it was down right terrifying.

I am on the phone a lot for my job and spend a lot of time looking out the window of my 26th floor office in Shinjuku, (Tokyo, Japan).    A few minutes after the earthquake this was the view out my window.  Someone was down on the street and captured a video of my office building on YouTube. Mine is the brown building in the middle – watch it here.

All of the trains were stopped on Friday and millions either slept on the floors of their offices or prepared for a long walk home.   Most of the telephone mobile networks were down and pay phones became a primary form of communication, with long lines forming at each.   When something like this happens, the first thing you want to do is speak to your family and ensure them that everyone is OK.  I was unable to reach my family for several hours, as phone calls, mails and SMSs couldn’t get through.   Finally after about 7 hours I got a message from Facebook saying that my wife had left a message on my e-mail.    It is interesting that what prevailed from a communication platform was Facebook and Twitter.

After several hours of walking I found an open Starbucks and stopped to get warm and take a short rest.  I was taken back by this beautiful young girl who was quietly sitting there in her kimono.   Clearly she had a different set of plans for the day but I was impressed with the grace in which she was dealing with the situation.   I would see so many more examples of this over the days to come.

Growing up in the United States I took for granted knowing how to get around as I walked or biked a lot as a child.   I am a runner and have trained for several marathons so I know how to get all over Tokyo on foot.   I never thought about the fact that many Japanese take the train and don’t really know how to get around the city on foot.  Police Stations quickly become the place to go for directions on how to get home.

and after more than 3 hours I found the little street that leads up to my house.

Saturday Morning I tried to gather what supplies I could.  Gas was already being rationed to 20 liters or about 5 gallons.

Bread shops across Japan were selling – there was a concern about the availability of food in general.  This has been played up in the press to a greater extent but finding bread has not been easy.

Sunday things seem to be returning to normal but people were keeping a very close tab on the news.

Bread shops continue to be sold out.

Toy Stores are empty… Tokyo in general seem surreal with its lacks of people.

The government announced rolling blackouts and trains running at very limited capacity causing large queues.

Starbucks continues to operate but by candle light to conserve power.

The first thing I did when I get to my office was repack my earthquake kit.   At 10:02AM another earthquake struck in Ibaraki which was around magnitude 6.2.   No damage but it was unnerving after only being in the office for an hour.  A few companies closed as the staff was visibly shaken.

Families and Students start gathering outside of train stations to collect donations for those affected by the earthquake.

Trains remain extremely crowded.

News Crews are out across Tokyo capturing the stories.

As aftershocks continue to rock Tokyo and fears continue to grow with the Nuclear situation in Fukushima, there is a somber mood in Tokyo.    There is a lot of confusion and misinformation being spread around.   The gas station next to my house went from rationing on Saturday and Sunday to closed for the day on Monday to simply “Sold Out.”

Train lines continue to be strained.

Yodobashi camera stand is completely empty. This is where people try the latest cell phones.

As is Shinjuku Station, which gets about 6 times the daily traffic as NYC’s Penn Station.

Gas stations remain closed.

Shibuya Crossing dubbed ‘The world’s busiest crossing” with crowds of up to 3,000 people crossing at a single light change is relatively empty and in darkness.

Newspapers Headlines are filled with stories about the situation in Fukushima.

An elderly man quietly looking out the window during our shared 10 minute journey together.

With all of the fear and uncertainty it is easy to get caught up in it.  What I have been more impressed with is how the Japanese have been handling this situation.   As I was changing trains my eye caught this beautiful young woman who was gracefully making her way across the station with her mother on her way to a graduation ceremony.   It was interesting to think about how she was handling this situation as if to say “THIS isn’t going to stop by graduation.”    I thought about her while I rode my next train for a bit and then got a tweet from someone that made me smile.   “Most Japanese in Tokyo are going about their daily lives. Quiet but calm. This country has balls of steel.”    There is a lot to be said with how the Japanese are conducting themselves through this situation.

There are a lot of people providing words of support and prayers for Japan.    I think as a global community we all have a responsibility to help financially as well.   There are many organizations that are offering relief but my personal choice is the Red Cross.   If you want to help you can donate here.

Dave Powell is a photographer and blogger based in Tokyo, Japan.  He writes the daily photography blog – Shoot Tokyo.   You can follow him on Twitter @ShootTokyo. Most of the photos above were shot with his Leica M9 and a Noctilux 50mm f/0.95 lens at .95, iso 160 and various shutter speeds.

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  1. March 16, 2011 at 8:31 pm —

    That is amazing! What wonderful photos. Thank you so much for sharing. The two photos of the ladies dressed up….Wow!

  2. Brandi Greenwood
    March 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm —

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Was nice to get a personal perspective other than what we see on the news.

  3. Danica
    March 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm —

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  4. March 17, 2011 at 9:06 am —

    Thank you so much for posting this. I will definitely follow his blog now as I, along with the rest of the world, am hoping Tokyo and all of Japan somehow make it through this without much more damage. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

  5. Julie H
    March 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm —

    So powerful & moving. My thoughts & prayers are with everyone in Japan. We could all learn from their strength in their greatest time of need. God Bless Japan.

  6. March 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm —

    This was wonderful. Sometimes in the news we miss the simple daily differences that we all take for granted. I have been most impressed by the grace that the Japanese people have shown in the face of all these changes.
    Thank you for your insight.

  7. March 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm —

    Great images. I continuously Pray for Japan…

  8. March 18, 2011 at 8:54 am —

    i’m so glad you shared these words and pics…i’ve been to tokyo a few times and share a love the region. i’m def praying for japan and it’s humble and bold people.

  9. March 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm —

    Beautifully and respectfully captured. Thank you for the warm insight into what the Japanese are going through.

  10. Jim
    June 7, 2011 at 9:44 am —

    I follow Dave Powell Daily on this Blog “Shoot Tokyo”, He always has an amazing array of images taken on the “Street” in Tokyo. I have learn quickly just how wonderful the Japanese people are through his photos and how absolutely amazing how Clean and Organized the Japanese People are.

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Inside Tokyo: One Photographer’s View