I was in Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo, on March 11th, just finishing a photo assignment when the earthquake hit Japan. It wasn’t my first earthquake, but it was the first one which I definitely felt “this could be it”. The big one, the one we all fear.
My first thought was to get to an open space, and once there I immediately tried calling my Japanese wife to make sure that she and my three and a half year old daughter were safe. But all the phone lines were busy, making a call was impossible. Sending a text message was impossible. There was nothing I could do until I managed to return home two hours later.
And so began a stressful few weeks. We watched the news helplessly as images rolled of tsunamis and exploding nuclear reactors. We worried. We worried for our daughter- can she drink the water? Can she play outside? Whilst our fears were valid and real we knew that they were small compared to the worries and fears held by the people in Tohoku, and in the Fukushima region.
I have worked for many years as a photographer for Greenpeace, covering many different environmental issues facing our planet. But in these last 3 years or so, since I became a father this work has become more important to me. My daughter is called Hikari (which is Japanese for ‘light’), and she does indeed bring light to all those around her, she has an unbridled passion for life. She loves to play outside, on swings, in the park, with sticks and leaves. I want her to grow up and see the world, to have experiences in different countries, to see the beauty this world holds. My hopes for her future spur me to work harder photographing the issues we face, and in some way, hopefully my images can help bring about changes.
My wife and I tried to explain to our daughter Hikari about the earthquake, how the earth moved and broke, how waves came and broke peoples houses, and some people now can’t find their friends and families. And as we watch the news we’ve also tried to explain to her that the earthquake and waves broke a factory that makes the electricity. She seems to understand, as much as a young kid can.
When I was asked to join the Rainbow Warrior and sail to the Fukushima region I instantly agreed, for me it was not a difficult decision to take. I discussed it with my wife, about the dangers, about the safety precautions the ship and crew would take. We felt that whilst it does hold an element of danger, that it was a risk worth taking, that the research of marine radiation contamination is needed. I explained to my daughter that I would be going on a ship, that I would be away for a while, I would visit near to the broken factory I had told her about, and in return she drew a picture of me and the ship.
The sun comes out, the cherry blossom is blooming, and life continues. It is easy to feel complacent and safe, but the radiation and the dangers it poses are invisible and long lasting. It is imperative that all in Japan demand information, demand better answers and more accurate guidelines from the government in Japan. As a long time resident of Japan I worry about the information being given out by TEPCO and the government about Fukushima disaster. Is it reliable? How reliable? Do they tell us everything? Are the acting fast enough and in strong enough measures? The people of Japan need more information about the current situation, they need more answers to their worries and fears.
My wife follows the Japanese media and I follow the Western media and between them we try to gauge and discern the truth. We believe that Greenpeace can bring important research to the discussion, and that it is a strong independent voice speaking out about the nuclear problems Japan currently endures, and that Greenpeace speaks out on behalf of everyone.
Only once we have the information, and answers, and reliable data, perhaps then people will begin to feel reassured. Perhaps then I can tell my daughter Hikari that the problems caused by the earthquake and waves have been fixed, and that things are getting better.
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, is on board the Rainbow Warrior, as it transits northwards to Fukushima, Japan.
Image - ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
Professional Drawing - ©Hikari Sutton-Hibbert