Ian Thomas Ash, originally from New York, is a freelance documentary filmmaker who has lived in Japan for 10 years. When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of north-eastern Japan on March 11, Ian felt its effects in the nation’s capital, Tokyo. The impact of the quake, tsunami and the ongoing threat of radioactive fallout from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant 150 miles away is taking its toll.
In a captivating series of videos, Ian is chronicling the impact of the crisis on the lives of Tokyo residents. In this special guest article for Discovery News, he describes the story so far.
When the earthquake struck Japan on March 11, I had been living here for 10 years and experienced many earthquakes. But they were nothing when compared to the violence at the epicenter that the city of Sendai experienced. Still, Tokyo shook harder than anyone can remember in recent history.
Tokyo, although it was rattled to its core, suffered few fatalities or damage to buildings. But it was when the earthquake and subsequent tsunami-damaged reactors at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, just 150 miles away from the Tokyo metropolitan area and its population of 35 million people, that a third disaster threatened the country.
As a documentary filmmaker, I decided to take my camera out and record what was happening in my neighborhood. At first I filmed my neighbors panic-buying everything from toilet paper to bottled water:
I followed with a short piece on the mass exodus of foreign nationals from the capital due to a fear of exposure to radiation. Next, I filmed big corporations wasting electricity as rolling blackouts plagued the metropolitan area and neighboring prefectures.
Then I attended a private press conference on March 16 that was held by a group that included two former Toshiba engineers, one of whom had worked on the safety systems of the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was dangerously close to a meltdown.
Surely a tsunami was a scenario that they had prepared for when designing a nuclear power plant in this earthquake-prone country, one could have assumed. But I was blown away by what the engineers had to say.
However, the real shock of the evening was when Sakiyama Hisako, a medical doctor and expert on the effects of radiation on the human body, took to the podium. Her presentation about the possible effects on the people living in the areas surrounding the power plant and whether she believed the metropolitan government had prepared for such a scenario, left me absolutely speechless:
As much as I can’t believe that so many ex-pats have decided to leave, I can’t believe I’ve decided to stay. But this is my home, this is where we live.