China Earthquake Update

Earthquakes in China happen, and the results are usually swept under a rug. China is nearly the same size as the US which means a huge vast land especially away from the coasts, but what happens when a disaster happens in a poor zone? Death, bad services, no help, which then translates to less news and for those who live elsewhere? It’s a disaster that’s forgotten or overlooked when meshed with “our” own problems. We hope the survivors can get past this without our attention. (Buzzfeed – Earthquake)

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Abandoned Dogs with PTSD

The dogs that roamed free for over a year are exhibiting the “issues” that you’d probably imagine they have. A study showed that, “The dogs from Fukushima showed significantly lower aggression toward unfamiliar people, trainability and attachment to their caretakers,” Nagasawa and colleagues wrote. “Also, urine cortisol levels in the dogs from Fukushima were 5-10 fold higher than those in abandoned dogs from another area of Japan.” (LA Times – Fukushima dogs)

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In His Own Words: NYC Artist Naoto Nakagawa’s Thousand Portraits of Japan Disaster Survivors

“When the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown struck northern Japan, I felt powerless to do something substantial to help my homeland. Family circumstances took me to Japan a few months later, and I resolved to visit the devastated area to see it with my own eyes. While I was there I decided to draw portraits of people who are living in shelters, to give them some token that a visitor from far away in America cares about their plight.

“I remembered that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City, school children in Japan sent 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of healing and good fortune, to my children’s school. I decided to make 1,000 Portraits to give to people in northern Japan – a symbolic way to demonstrate that others care for them and that we support each other in a crisis.

“During five subsequent trips to Japan, I was assisted by a humanitarian aid group, which arranged for me to visit schools and shelters. The response was overwhelming; when I focused on my subjects, they started to talk, or sometimes to cry. One woman told me that she had lost all her family photos in the tsunami, and was so grateful to have my portrait of her.”

Nakagawa is shown (above) with NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly after sitting for a portrait last year. Ironically, Commissioner Kelly briefly lived in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hardest hit by the 3-11 earthquake and tsunami.

Nakagawa’s “1000 Portraits of Hope” will be on display from June 18 through Aug. 8 as part of “Voices From Japan: Despair and Hope From Disaster” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue at 112 Street. For more information, visit

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Photographs of Tōhoku

As previously posted on GR, I made several trips to the northern countryside of Japan in the days and weeks following the disaster of 3/11. And, though the intent of these ragtag “missions,” was primarily humanitarian, I took many photos along the way, posting them with my reports on these pages.

I recently culled the most evocative of those shots for display at the 12th incarnation of the always delightful Nippon Connection Japanese Film Festival, held last week in Frankfurt. Going through these images was difficult and, needless to say, brought back some very sad memories. What a year.

GR readers will have seen many of these images before, but here they are (again) as collected for their recent showing at the festival. I know many among you are probably experiencing disaster burnout, but I think it’s worth having another look, and pausing to contemplate the awesome power of nature and, indeed, the transience of our own existence.

From Tokyo,


All photos copyright © 2012 Michael Arias. All rights reserved.


Minor Injuries during the Removal of the Bent Tokyo Tower

Yes, as our friend Nao Harada mentions, they should leave it bent as a symbol of the quake. (Kahoku – Bent Tower)

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Earthquake Calm Mother Video


The calmness of a mother. Amazing.


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Roadside Shrine, a 1000 Year Old Tale, Saves Villagers

Tsunami story that we missed. It’s interesting that a 1000 year old village “folk take” which turns out to be quite real saved tons of folks when the tsunami came. There’s a hill in Murohama which is the closest relief spot, but 1000 years ago a tsunami came and the hill turned out to be an unfortunately spot where the rushing waters collided and killed the people on the hill. It happened again on 3.11.11 and most people knew not to go to the hill. There’s a roadside shrine (this link is an addendum to the story with a photo) dedicated to the ancient story. It’s a great tale. (LA Times – Murohama)

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Tsunami Survivor Interview in the Huffington Post

The best quote from Mikuni Fumitaka:

What can we learn from this disaster?
The most important thing is the connections and bonds between people.

It’s also interesting that not having a TV kept him more calm.

(Huffington Post – Survivor Story)


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Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown by PBS

This is new and is a haunting film that’s leading up to 3.11, one year later.


Watch Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

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Fukushima Devil’s Chain Reaction Averted

Imagine 30 million people needing to evacuate Tokyo at once. This new report explains that the government weren’t ready. Of course it was kept secret. People who now? Much of the public is already having a hard time to believing the government. TEPCO (the owners of the plant) officials were ordered to stay and work on the reactor rather than abandon it which possibly saved Tokyo. (PRI – Fukushima)

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GR Film Review: Friends After 3.11 – Shunji Iwai


It’s hard to write about 3.11 from this side of the planet. I watched the horrors on television, Ustream, and Twitter just an hour or so after attending an after event for an exhibition by James Jean, where I stood when I heard about the quake and tsunami. Like 9.11, you’ll remember what you were doing and who was around when you heard, and like with most, I experienced the devastation virtually.

Living just a few blocks away, I’ve known filmmaker Shunji Iwai for a bit over a year as he was working on projects outside of Japan. He often discussed his life in America that didn’t include a need to work in Japan any time soon. Over many meals, he talked about the quake and had powerful views of how dangerous the radiation was for Tokyoites and of course the surrounding areas of Fukushima. Depressed, he was positive that if he was in Tokyo, he’d have moved far away as should everyone else. He knew the media was lying. He newly established an office, staff, had a completed film “Vampire,” and before I knew it he left America nearly overnight for Osaka.

I’ve often wondered how my neighbor was doing. Just the other day I ran into him on Facebook. He messaged me that he’d send me his film about 3.11. I only loosely heard of his project and expected something that would be cinematic – in his way. It’s not. At least that’s what I thought at first. By the end, it is. It’s more of what can be thought of as a text book on film that’s heavy with interviews. As you’d expect there will be scenes of wreckage, but what Iwai captures is also his own experience that he shares with his new friends including a young girl activist. He too is experiencing the scenes, explanation and people as you are when you watch it.

It’s not cinematic in a sense that he’s not trying to sway your emotions with pretty shots, but you are pushed deeply into understanding what 3.11 means from angles of indie media, nuclear plants, locals, professors, involved actors, and more. I was most touched by a professor in Kyoto who’s remarks about the children affected by the radiation was especially touching and only then does his film crescendo into something that I could see crafted by Iwai’s hands. It’s all in the last last few minutes that you realize his artistic vision for this film.



Ten Things in 2011

This isn’t a Top Ten list like “Best Concert, Best Movie, or Best Toy”. It’s a list that’s as important and there are highlights in them all, but by no means is it a Top Ten of anything. They’re just important as everything else – family, friends, and so on. Maybe I’ll try and turn out a list that’s more like that…


 We painted the mural on the wall. That alone was an 11 hour project. 


Zen Garage – The year started off great with the Zen Garage art opening just a few days before the new year. Yet, the actual New Year’s Day kicked off with the Oshogatsu program at JANM. It was motor vehicles including the Giant Robot Scion Car I designed but also custom motorcycles and the now vintage David Choe Scion. Thanks to Len Higa and Shinya Kimura for jumping on board. The year began with a GR show in a museum – it’s a great start with you get to do a project with friends, new friends, and a place like JANM. Collaboration can be more fun than doing something alone.


 It’s great when artists install their own work. 


James Jean Art Show – Aside from it being one of the greater or even greatest art shows of the year, it also indelibly marked the night that the earthquake struck Japan. I recall, it was at the after party, the twitter messages were beginning. An 8.9 quake? The thought of a giant quake was one thing, yes there would be lives lost and yes a lot of damage, but less than an hour later, the Tsunami hit the shores and that’s when the things got real, it became internet news for days straight.



The Comeback: Aya Takada’s Birdo Flugas Gallery in Shiogama

 Aya Takada during one of her kids programs

It was just a couple of years ago that filmmaker Shunji Iwai brought his niece, Aya Takada to GR2. When the giant Earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, she was the only person I knew from the Sendai area. When I asked Shunji Iwai about Aya, he said straight faced, “I thought they all died.” Yet days later, he found out they were all fine except the gallery flooded. Then in some time, a Facebook status update said something like, “cleaning up the gallery”. Since then, Birdo Flugas which is located on the first floor of her family’s home is cleaned up and Aya is working hard on her space, projects and public programs. The photos tell the story as well as those are at the bottom of the page.


GR: You run a gallery in Sendai of all places. Can you tell me about your neighborhood? Did it change after 311?

AT: My gallery is located in a small city called Shiogama, near Sendai (about 30 minutes away). Shiogama is a port town. After 3.11, many shops and houses were torn down. Less buildings are around birdo space now. There’s more vacant lots. Compared with the other affected areas, Shiogama was less damaged because the Urato islands were protected the city.

GR: Your gallery was flooded in the tsunami of 311. Can you tell me about that time? Where were you? What you were thinking about? How bad your gallery was affected? (at left is the family home and the gallery at the bottom)

AT: I was working at my gallery “birdo space” at 2:46pm on 3/11, as usual. The quake was crazily big. The gallery shook badly. The racks and shelves fell down one after another, I thought the building itself would collapse at a stretch.

My gallery is located near the Shiogama Port, like about 150m from the port. I heard the tsunami alert soon, saying “3m Tsunami is coming..etc” urging to head for higher ground. I didn’t think it would happen, but then the alert was saying “6m tsunami is coming…” and then “10m tsunami is coming…” Then finally I felt something weird and dangerous. I went to see my family (near the gallery). We decided to run to my brother’s apartment (12th floor). There was about 40-50mins until the tsunami actually arrived in Shiogama. When I arrived my brother’s apartment, I opened the window right away. The tsunami arrived. The road and streets we just passed were flooded.

I was shaking while looking at what was going on, in front of me.

I went to see the gallery next day, the building itself was fine, but the fallen artworks, products, racks and shelves, books, office data, my bike, and cars were all soaked with sludge.





Google’s Memories of the Future Japan

Here’s a little more about the google street views of post Earthquake Japan. 44,000 square miles were reshot just to have a record of what happened. Here’s our link to the story along with the viewer. The NPR story actually has before and after views which are sobering and somber. If you don’t know how to use it, just drag the man icon in the left corner to the blue line in the road (zoom in first), then you get Street View and from there just navigate. We randomly picked a spot, and it looked like the photo below. (google – Miraikioku)


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Clean Up of Fukushima to Take 40 Years!

Will it ever be clean? Also once it’s clean, what will go here? Apartments? In 100 years or even 200 years, many will forget, many will say the area is totally clean and yes lofty ocean front apartments will get made just as they do on top of toxic landfills. 40 years sounds like a good timetable but why make something when it takes decades to remove it? (CBS – 40 Years)


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Kesennuma, a Town Destroyed

Satomi Ono’s story about her town, Kesennuma which is a name you often hear about when the Japanese disaster is brought up. It was destroyed. This is sort of like journal entries and her tale isn’t the worst since she wasn’t there, but it’s well told and talk about her friends and family and what they went through. It’s well written and she’s just trying to get the word out. (Statemanjournal – Satomi Ono)

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Earthquakes in 2011 Video

If you can’t wait, watch from the 2 minute mark and see how Japan has been getting rocked in 2011. It’s actually scary and this is only graphics. The sheer quantity that’s taking place in just a single area seems unprecedented. This seems near unbelievable.




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Japan Debris Washing Up in Torfino, Canada?



Could it be washing up in Torfino? Some signs look like it, and the fella who’s been seeing these pieces speaks with great restraint and is open to any answer. The pieces of wood seem too clean and new, and containers from China don’t quite support the story, but who knows. It’ll wash up eventually.


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Volunteer in a Small Town


Chizuru Nakagawa is a volunteer who packed her things from Tokyo and went to a town she’d never heard of to help. Months and months later as the town is slowly picking up where it all went wrong, she’s still there and is part of the fabric of the rebuilding. It sounds typical in a way, since there are always human interest stories of a person doing something straight out of a hero book. This is just another one of them. (Stripes – Chizuru Nakagawa)

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Google Maps Lets You Street View the Tsunami Disaster Area

Google Maps show you the disaster area. Literally scroll through areas. It’s odd but at the same time, this is as close as most will experience.


View Larger Map


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