Photographing Hiroshima, Fukushima and Everything in Between via The New York Times

Kikujiro Fukushima’s life in photography took off when he promised to avenge the Hiroshima bombing. It was 1952, and Mr. Fukushima — a watchmaker, volunteer social worker and photographer — met Sugimatsu Nakamura, a 43-year-old fisherman, who was gravely ill from the atomic bomb’s effects.

“For the first two years I was too timid to photograph him,” Mr. Fukushima told me a few weeks ago. “But one day, he got on his knees, crying, and begged me.”

“Fukushima, can you please take revenge on the atomic bomb?”

“Yes, but how?”

“Take pictures of my pain and let the world know how terrible it is.”

Mr. Nakamura was not only angry about the bombing, but also with the Japanese government, which refused to provide proper care for its victims. Mr. Fukushima understood this well — he had been in the Japanese military, stationed in Hiroshima until one week before the bombing, when he was transferred to prepare for a suicide mission. Most of his comrades who stayed behind were killed.

Mr. Nakamura died in 1967, but the documentary filmmaker Saburo Hasegawa believes that the vow Mr. Fukushima made to the ailing fisherman guided his subsequent career, in which he photographed individuals fighting social injustice. During the social upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Fukushima photographed student and feminist movements, antiwar protests and industrial pollution. He even infiltrated Japan’s Self-Defense Forces by telling the head of public affairs that he would gladly give it free pictures if it gave him access.

He had other plans.

“If the government or corporations knowingly deceived the public by breaking the law, it’s O.K. for photographers to break the law in order to uncover the truth they are hiding,” Mr. Fukushima explained in “Japan Lies,” the documentary Mr. Hasegawa made about him.


Convinced that the emperor was never held accountable for the horrors of the war, Mr. Fukushima mounted a retrospective exhibition called “The Emperor’s Responsibility” that was highly critical of Hirohito’s role in World War II.

The exhibition was successful, but he received death threats. As an act of defiance — or caution — he made his own coffin out of cheap plywood.

Now 92, Mr. Fukushima lives alone in an apartment in Yanai with his dog Roku. He does his own grocery shopping and cooks three meals a day. He refuses to receive a national pension, saying he can’t accept money from the enemy he has been fighting. He doesn’t take money from his children. Instead, he ekes out a living writing for magazines.

Feeling that the official history of postwar Japan has been whitewashed, he penned his own account. The third volume of his autobiography, “Postwar Japan Nobody Photographed,” was published early in 2013.

He continues to photograph residents of Iwaishima, a small fishing island in Yamaguchi, who have been protesting against a proposed nuclear plant for three decades. He traveled to Fukushima in September 2011 to photograph the nuclear crisis, six months after the earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc.

Read more at Photographing Hiroshima, Fukushima and Everything in Between


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