Guest article by Ian Thomas Ash, a freelance documentary filmmaker who has lived in Japan for 10 years. Continuing his series of videos in and around the Fukushima nuclear power plant exclusion zone, Ian visits the radioactive ghost towns where a few people are trying to piece together their lives after the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and resulting meltdown.

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Since the residents began returning to the radiation zone 20-30km from the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima one month after the meltdown, I have been documenting the ongoing crises.


Although my work has generally been focused on what is happening to the children who are living and going to school in this area of abnormally high radiation, I have recently turned my camera on another of Fukushima’s victims: its nuclear ghost towns.

Last month, accompanied by a cameraman and armed with a radiation monitor, I entered the Odaka district of Minamisoma City, Fukushima. Odaka covers an area just 10-20km from the nuclear power plant and was, until recently, part of the exclusion zone. Residents are now allowed to enter this zone and visit their abandoned homes, but they are not allowed to live there or to even spend the night because of the high levels of radiation and lack of infrastructure (electricity and water services that were destroyed in the March 11 disaster have yet to be restored).

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Because entry to Odaka had been banned for over a year since the residents were quickly evacuated after the explosions at the nearby nuclear power plant, much of the devastation remains exactly how it was since just after the earthquake and tsunami: collapsed buildings, piled up cars, houses knocked off their foundation, and all of it contaminated with radiation:

Last month, I also filmed in Iitate, Fukushima, another nuclear ghost town created in the wake of the nuclear disaster. When the entire village of Iitate was evacuated last year, I documented the ensuing confusion and anger.

When I returned a year later, I found a place where almost no one dares to venture and where nature is slowly beginning to take back the land:

Ian Thomas Ash, originally from New York, is a freelance documentary filmmaker who has lived in Japan for 10 years. When the magnitude-9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, Ian felt its effects in the nation’s capital, Tokyo.

The impact of the quake and tsunami, and the threat of radioactive fallout from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant 150 miles away, took its toll.

Ian’s feature-length documentary “In the Grey Zone,” the story of the children living in Fukushima after the nuclear meltdown, will hold its world premier in competition at the Rhode Island International Film Festival in August. You can see more of Ian’s documentary work by visiting Ian’s YouTube Channel. He also regularly updates his personal blog, Documenting Ian.