The idea of exploring and documenting abandoned towns and areas is something that appeals to many photographers as well as the inner-adventurer in people. However, we imagine that areas of Fukushima, Japan, which were particularly devastated during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as the subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, are not at the top of many would-be explorer’s lists. Malaysian photographer Keow Wee Loong, however, seems to have little concern for the after-effects of those incidents, sneaking into Fukushima’s closed off “red zones” to photograph ghost towns untouched since their immediate evacuation.
Source: Keow Wee Loong
Now, there is a considerable amount of sensationalism at play here (particularly as these evacuated zones are nothing like the rest of Fukushima). Loong claims to have picked up a “burning sensation in my eyes and thick chemical smell in the air”, which would run contrary to reports about the actual level of contamination, depending on the area–as well as most conventional knowledge of radiation. Also, the forbidden nature of these towns can be debated, as the government has “red zones” barricaded and normal access prohibited due to concerns over radiation sickness (as well as infrastructural damage and unstable buildings), but the unmanned nature of these outposts kinda means anyone willing to break the law can just hop in. Access via permit can be acquired sometimes, but Loong claims he didn’t want to go through the red tape of the actual law, and instead opted to lurk through forests and trespass with just a phone, GPS, and friends as guidance.
Although the radioactive nature of some areas has been overstated, given the different hot spots traveled to with apparently a gas mask as totally insufficient means of protection, there is quite a bit of recklessness on display here, and definitely not something advisable to do (not to mention trespassing). That said, the pictures are indeed fascinating, and show that the towns of Okuma, Namie, Futaba, Tamioka appear as if frozen in time, which is obviously understandable as most were instantly evacuated. It would be foolish to think that these pictures represent the un-restricted areas of Fukushima which are getting along normally, but in these towns nature has reclaimed much of the outside, and while many buildings are damaged, the abandoned interiors have a haunting emptiness to them. Here are some selected photographs.
Abandoned supermarket, apparently frequented by wild animals.
P#rn, which you don’t need to go to a ghost town for.
Video/DVD rental store.
Left behind laundry–not the best thing to be picking up.
Where time stopped in these towns.
A barrier in Okuma.
Collapses structures from the earthquake.
Left behind vehicles.
An abandoned pub.
Loong identifies these as radioactive waste, but they appear to be bags of topsoil.
More damaged buildings.
100 meters from the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant–a rather bad place to be standing and taking a pic.
An over-run shoe store.
A Playstation 2.
Vegetables and flowers.
The entire set of photos can be seen in Keow Wee Loong’s Facebook album. While there is plenty of fascinating material here, there is a sense of unease in someone providing it by going through homes that can never be returned to by those who were forced to leave them.