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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Article I wrote for Cultural News

I just wanted to check in and say hello... I realize I have not written as often as I did before. I have been somewhat busy. The publisher of Cultural News felt that my article should be shared with as many people before it is officially published next month. Here is a preview of the Article in full that will be published next month by Cultural News But here is a preview of an article I wrote for Cultural News. It is supposed to come out in the December issue with photographs.



         In August 2011 I traveled to Japan to document the aftermath of the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Crisis.  Like most photojournalists I was determined and focused to remain objective about the crisis and take the best photographs possible while documenting a true, but positive reflection of Japan’s worst tragedy to date.  Like much of the world I felt a sense of concern, empathy and tragic curiosity for the Japanese and their situation.  I didn’t have any expectations other than to be prepared for the worst.  The worst would never come.
         What I found in Japan were people of resilience, hope, perseverance and presence.  In each city I visited I found a common theme, Gambaru, which means many different things ranging from perseverance to overcoming obstacles.  But to me, and I believe others in Japan, it meant the refusal to give up and the importance to never stop until the goal is achieved.  It became my mantra. That and “Walk, Safe. Walk Strong, Mark Paul” which was written on a hat given to me by my friend Tree in Ofunato. I chose to walk 350 miles of the 600 or so miles affected by the Tohuku Earthquake in Japan. And while it seemed crazy at the time it came to make sense to me.  For within every mile I covered was a story to be told.

In Sendai, I experienced my saddest day in my travels as I met a Mother and her young son trying to fix a part of their mini van that had come lose. I was under the impression that this woman had simply pulled over to take care of the annoyance. What I found out was that the ground where she had pulled over actually once belonged to her parents and that her father and mother had been swept away with their home by the Tsunami. She, and her son were the last of her living relatives in the whole world.  They had come to honor her parents and pay their respects to their neighbors as well. She did not weep, she simply stated the facts: her parents were gone and it was important that she raise her son in the best world possible. 
Japan brings the best out of people.  Be it a photographer or simply a janitor trying to make a difference.  In Ofunato, I experienced true Gamburu in the most heinous of jobs.  A “Foam Factory.”  I met a group of International Volunteers called “All Hands” who goal was very simple to help and facilitate with the clean up of the city of Ofunato.  Every morning a group between 80 to 120 volunteers would be scattered throughout the city working independently in group of six to ten: cleaning debris from roads, painting walls, clearing water drainage systems, cataloging recovered pictures, and breaking truck loads of foam.  I spent a total of three days working with a colorful group of international volunteers but couldn’t get over the commitment they had to their jobs. “James” in particular had come from England to make a difference on his Holiday.  And while in his own words he was a simple Janitor he was to me as the rest of the volunteers I met in Ofunato as well as throughout the Tohuku area a hero. 
Like many of the Japanese and international Volunteers I met. James quietly worked hard, focused to achieve what seemed the most daunting and unrewarding of task.  Breaking large pieces of foam insulation, once housed between the walls of the factories where his team stood working, into very small particles that could be bagged and later burnt.  He never deviated from his task. And when I asked him why, he simply replied “I just want to make a difference.”
James exemplified every Japanese I came across in my travels. Present, hopeful, and perseverant. I found that no matter how old or young a person was they had no problem helping to rebuild their country. In Iwake, not even 20 miles away from the Nuclear Reactor I met a young Mother who volunteered her three children ages 16, 12, and 9 Months.  When I asked what the baby did she said he brought hope. In that same group I met a man in his late 60s, Abe, who every week travelled from Tokyo to make a difference volunteering.
The Japanese never complained.  And the conditions in some of these areas were extremely harsh. Instead the victims and evacuees looked at the Japanese born volunteers or International Volunteers with grace and thankfulness. There was always a sense of gratitude from the victims for the empathy that the volunteers showed them by listening to their stories, and working hard to make a difference in their lives and giving them hope that they had not and will not be forgotten. 
Ishinomaki ©2011 Mark Paul Photography

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