At the age of 90 and with his frail 37-kilogram body weakened by cancer, photojournalist Kikujiro Fukushima remains determined to complete his final project.
An anti-nuclear activist since taking photographs in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945, Fukushima went to Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture in September with two cameras, including a Nikon F that he has used for close to half a century.
Fukushima, who has been diagnosed with stomach and prostate cancer, often fell during the trip, but he managed to photograph gravestones that had been gathered after they were washed away by the March 11 tsunami.
He was escorted on the trip by Munesuke Yamamoto, a photojournalist friend of about 25 years, who had also been photographing the devastation from the March quake and tsunami.
The two visited Kenichi Hasegawa, 58, a rancher in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, who had to destroy his cattle after radiation spewed from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. One of Hasegawa's friends committed suicide.
"I was very shocked to find the beautiful mountains and forests turned into a scenery of absolute despair through radiation contamination," Fukushima said.
At the same time, he was impressed by how serious the residents were about building a future for their village even after losing everything.
Before the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, Fukushima raised concerns about nuclear power plants.
In one of his books, "Utsuranakatta sengo Hiroshima no uso" (The overlooked postwar era, the lies of Hiroshima), he wrote: "Nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons are synonyms. If an accident occurs, damage could arise that would be the equivalent of nuclear war."
In September, Fukushima covered a demonstration in Tokyo opposing nuclear power. Kenzaburo Oe, the Nobel Prize-winning author, was one of those calling on the public to join the protest, which organizers said attracted 60,000 people.
Over a three-day period, Fukushima used up 30 rolls of black-and-white film with 36 exposures each. After taking his last shot, he fell to the ground in exhaustion.
When asked why he decided to photograph the effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident, he said: "Japan constructed nuclear power plants by piling up lies about their safety and security. That led to the accident. The cenotaph for A-bomb victims in Hiroshima says 'We will not repeat the mistake again,' but in my mind the latest accident overlaps with Japan's past involvement in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
"I felt I had to see for myself what happened in Fukushima."
In 1945, Fukushima belonged to a military unit stationed in Hiroshima. However, shortly before the atomic bomb was dropped, his unit was moved outside of the prefecture.
He visited Hiroshima the following year, and in 1961, he published a book of photographs showing the suffering of atomic-bomb victims.
He later published photographs in magazines about the Self-Defense Forces and Japan's weapons industry.
After the photos appeared, Fukushima was physically attacked and his home was the target of arson.
But those experiences did not scare Fukushima from what he felt he had to do. He was spurred by the feeling of never hiding what has happened, leading to his efforts to dig up the truth.
Fukushima also admits to feelings of guilt.
"Compared to the people who led such tragic lives and who I photographed but who have since disappeared, I have been able to make a living and send my children to college. In a sense, I survived unharmed," he said.
That experience has led to empathy for the survivors of the March 11 quake and tsunami.
"There are probably many people who blame themselves for being the only ones to survive the natural disasters, and they likely have kept all that suffering within themselves," Fukushima said.
He said he wants to put together photographs from Fukushima Prefecture for a fourth volume of "The overlooked postwar era" series.
His efforts and determination have caught the attention of Documentary Japan Inc., whose members have been following Fukushima for the past two years for the purpose of putting together a film about the photojournalist.
The documentary is expected to be completed in January.
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This article was originally posted on December 06, 2011.
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