After shock: New York’s Japan Society presents work on the 3/11 tragedy

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’In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11’ opened yesterday at New York’s Japan Society, marking the fifth anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant failure that struck Japan. Pictured: ’In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11’, installation shot.
(Image credit: Richard P Goodbody, Inc.)

'In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11’ opens today – Friday, 11 March – at New York’s Japan Society, coinciding with the five-year anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant failure that struck northeast Japan.

The show was originally on view at MFA Boston in 2015 as a response to the disaster being the most widely photographed in history. ‘After everyone saw the images all over the media, we felt that photography would be an appropriate first stage of communicating the damage, both seen and unseen,’ the museum’s senior curator of Japanese art, Anne Nishimura Morse, says.

For its exhibition, Japan Society reorganised the 90 photographs into three sections: straightforward documentation, technical manipulation to convey a visual language, and post-disaster images of Tōhoku, the epicentre of the devastation.

The works grapple with expressing the visible effects of a natural disaster, such as collapsed buildings and abandoned pets, as well as the invisible, such as nuclear contamination and psychological damage. The exhibition opens with Naoya Hatakeyama’s richly colored, large-scale photographs of his hometown Rikuzentakata, before and after the tsunami hit.

Other series include Munemasa Takahashi’s ‘Lost and Found’­a collection of 750,000 damaged photographs that Takahashi has attempted to reunite with their owners; and works by Takashi Arai, who made daguerreotypes each day following the disaster and paired them with images of the Hiroshima bombing. The exhibition also features work by Tomoko Yoneda, Keizo Kitajima, Kozo Miyoshi, Lieko Shiga, Yasusuke Ota, Takashi Homma and Ishu Han, among many others (17 in total).

Yoko Ono, who was born and grew up in Tokyo, is installing her acclaimed interactive artwork Wish Tree in the Japan Society’s foyer. ‘In the Wake’ will be on view until 12 June.

Araki Nobuyoshi

Nobuyoshi Araki, a photographer known for his erotic photography, made a significant departure for his series of physically scratched photographs taken in Tokyo on and around 11 March. Many of the photographers in the exhibition shared his frustration of how normal life continued with disregard to the pain and suffering they felt. Pictured: Untitled from the series Diary of a Photo Mad Old Man, by Nobuyoshi Araki

(Image credit: Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery)

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Takashi Arai’s daguerreotypes of the Fukushima disaster are set next to iconic images from the Hiroshima bombing. He made a fragmented image of the pocket watch where the time stopped at 8:15am on 6 August, 1945, the moment the atomic bomb exploded over 70 years ago

(Image credit: Richard P Goodbody, Inc.)

Arai Takashi April 26 2011 Onahama

Takashi mixed his daguerreotypes of the damage from the Fukushima disaster with images of Hiroshima in order to connect and cement Japan’s complex history with nuclear disasters. Pictured: April 26, 2011 Onahama, Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, by Arai Takashi, 2011.

(Image credit: Courtesy Photo Gallery International)

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Photographs from Munemasa Takahashi’s ‘Lost and Found’ series – 1,330 of them – are on display as a visual expression of the layers and passing of time and memory

(Image credit: Richard P Goodbody, Inc.)

Homma Takashi Untitled

Renowned for his photos of modern youth and consumer culture, Takashi Homma turned to nuclear contaminated mushrooms to capture the unseen effects of a nuclear disaster, as well as draw an obvious metaphor with the atomic bombing

(Image credit: Courtesy Taru Nasu)

Tomoko Yoneda Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums are a national symbol of Japan – they are on Japanese passports and are considered the flower of the royal family. Tomoko Yoneda took this photo shortly after the disaster. ‘I wanted to show how little things can turn into big things; how something can look pure and innocent, but then maybe it could be something else,’ she says

(Image credit: the artist and ShugoArts)

Shiga Lieko Still Unconscious

Lieko Shiga is a survivor of the Fukushima disaster and a town photographer in the city of Kitakama in the Tohoku region. 'I am trying to express what I cannot see with my naked eye.... These photographs are about the spirit and the history of what we haven’t recorded,' she says.

(Image credit: Courtesy the artist)


’In the Wake’ is on view until 12 June. For more information, visit the Japan Society’s website


Japan Society
333 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017