A little while back, after seeing the photography exhibit “Havana Nights” and talking about the photo montage put together by Kidd of Speed about Chernobyl, I started looking around to see if there were any other famously abandoned spaces like the Zone of Exclusion around Chernobyl or places where it looked like time had stopped as it seemed to have in “Havana Nights.” Well, I should have remembered that natural disasters have a way of moving people out of an area — especially when the region is struck with a man-made disaster right after the natural disaster. Enter Fukushima’s Zone of Exclusion in Japan. While the disaster there isn’t on the same level as the explosion and fire at Chernobyl, it is enough to make anyone who can remember the Cold War shiver with fear.
Back in 2011, a massive earthquake resulted in a tsunami that hit Japan. The water got into one of the Daiichi nuclear power plant’s reactors near Tomioka in Fukushima prefecture. The reactor was damaged by the earthquake which measured a 9 on the Richter scale. The earthquake and the tsunami both contributed to nuclear waste and radiation leaking out of the containment area and into the land around. The Japanese government set up a Zone of Exclusion around the damaged power plant and evacuated many citizens to safer locations. However, just like with Chernobyl, some citizens refused to leave the Zone of Exclusion. They continue to remain there to this day, willing to risk the dangers of radiation to remain in the homes they have held for so long.
Like the area around Chernobyl, the area around Fukushima is safe to enter for limited amounts of time and with proper preparation and gear. Photojournalists have taken many photographs of the devastated area. Normally, something like this would have been cleaned up and much of the repair work would either be underway or mostly finished by now, two and a half years after the earthquake. However, no one is interested in mopping up the damage in the Zone of Exclusion. That gives the photographs from the Atlantic and other news organizations something of a poignant, abandoned feel.
Abandoned places — especially places where people lived until quite recently — fascinate me. The silence there must be deafening and the sense of being completely cut off from time and from the rest of the world must be acute. If I could, I’d visit some of these places myself just to let my mind wander a bit while I pretended to either be a pioneer, seeking to reclaim something from a civilization long dead and buried or a native of the abandoned area who decided to stay put and is trying to make sense of the strange travelers and their fancy new technology.
But then, I’m rather strange. What about you? Would you like to visit some place like that? Let us know in the comments below!
— da Bird
PS — Be sure to check out the 16th image in the Atlantic’s photoessay. That vending machine in the middle of a field is both creepy and fascinating. It’s something you would only see after a flood or a tsunami. The fact that it’s still there over two years later just says how reluctant people are to enter the Zone of Exclusion for clean-up.