Book review: Return to Fukushima by Rebecca Bathory

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was directly impacted by an earthquake on the 3rd of March, 2011. Tsunami waves breeched the perimeter of the power facility, and the resulting flood waters caused the plant to shut down. Overheated reactors exploded, radioactivity was released via the air and in water that washed into the sea. A thirty mile exclusion zone was established and a mass exodus of residents scattered out across Japan. Whole towns and villages were evacuated. Some villages were completely washed away by the sea. In these places, quite literally, the clock stopped on 3/11. Cats and farm animals starved in the streets. Food rotted in restaurant bowls. Open school books lie in place on desks. Non-essential belongings sit abandoned on the beds, counters, and surfaces in thousands of homes. Silence reigned.

In 2016, the residents of the town of Tomioka were given permission to return to walk their streets in the midst of a beautiful display of cherry blossoms. Rebecca Bathory was finally given permission to photograph in the exclusion zone — to capture for future generations this dark yet hopeful moment in their history.

This collection of images is intended to capture the sadness of a moment in history, a moment that is relevant to us all — no matter your politics or stance on nuclear power. In the end, these macro-economic decisions are measured out in individual human lives, losses and hopes.

Also, Fukushima is about more than just the kind of images that fit into the trope of melancholy, abandoned scenes. Bathory’s images contain a palpable absence of people who inhabited these scenes. The images of the city, the houses, stores, and streets are so complete in their absence of people. The disaster story of the nuclear plant accident, and the resulting purge of residents to safety, is very different than images of a building or hospital or school where one knows that people used to frequent those spaces at some time in the past. Here are entire cities where you know people are supposed to be now.

Bathory has photographed other similar locations, most notably Chernobyl. She says in her book that she photographed there, and one could deduce in Japan as well, because “as nature claims back the buildings that once thrived with life, in years to come they become just ruins and the photos I have taken on these trips will serve as a historical record. These photos are a reminder for me of that tragic event, and to those that view them show the fragility of human existence and how powers such as this should be treated carefully so as not to allow events like this to happen again.”

Return to Fukushima by Rebecca Bathory
192 pages, Hardback
ISBN 978–1–908211–48–4
Published by Carpet Bombing Culture

Rebecca Bathory is a photographer based in the UK. She has published a number of photo books that ‘find beauty in darkness, poetry and meaning in the forgotten and surreal, imaginary worlds amongst decay.’ To see more of her work, please visit:

Originally published at F-Stop Magazine.



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Cary Benbow

Cary Benbow

Photographer, independent writer :: staff writer for F-Stop Magazine, Publisher of Wobneb Magazine. (He/him)