After the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated northeastern Japan, New York-based artist Naoto Nakagawa began to ponder what he could do to help.
Realizing that many survivors lost their homes, loved ones and possessions to the deadly tsunami, including precious family photos, the 68-year-old artist decided to put his talents to work and draw 1,000 portraits of people who survived the events of 3/11.
The native of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, decided that 1,000 was the perfect number because the New York school his son had attended received 1,000 paper cranes from schoolchildren in Japan after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
His first visit was to an elementary school in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, in May 2011. Eventually, he made seven trips in all to the disaster areas, including Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.
On June 2, in the Iwate village of Noda, Nakagawa finally drew his 1,000th portrait. On that day, Nakagawa visited a day-care center where he drew portraits of 16 children. It took him about five minutes to draw a portrait of each child in his sketchbook, reaching the 1,000 mark at around 11:30 a.m., when he completed a picture of 4-year-old Hatsuki Todate.
"Whew," Nakagawa said, letting out a big breath as he lay his pen down and received a lively round of applause.
Hatsuki said on the day of the quake he fled with everyone else from the day-care center, and that his home was partly damaged.
"I've never had a picture of me drawn before," he said bashfully. "It looks a lot like me."
The day-care center's main building was washed away by the tsunami, but the 94 children and 19 staff members all survived. The children are now cared by the day-care center at a new location that had been closed.
During his travels in the disaster areas, Nakagawa did portraits beyond just the survivors. He also made sketches of Self-Defense Force personnel and volunteers from around the world.
Some of the portraits will be exhibited in New York starting June 14, and a book is also in the works. Afterward, Nakagawa said he will send the original portraits to their models.
Nakagawa said he was glad to complete his project in Iwate, where his venture first got under way.
"I finished it up with the children who represent the future," he said. "I'd like the people in the disaster area to be cheered by seeing me come from America to reach my goal of 1,000."
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