Regal Photos of Samurai Men in Storm-Ravaged Japan

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The 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and the explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex that ravaged Japan has not quelled the country’s rich cultural traditions. Soma Nomaoi is an annual celebration honoring samurai culture in Fukushima, which dates back more than one thousand years ago. The disaster death toll is staggering. Many people were forced to relocate due to radiation, but the surviving Nomaoi men have banded together in the face of tragedy and honored those lost by continuing to observe the gathering. We learned about artist Noriko Takasugi on My Modern Met, who spent a month photographing Fukushima’s Nomaoi and believes the event is “an embodiment of their identity and fight for survival.” Read some their personal stories, and see Takasugi’s regal photos of the men amongst their storm-ravaged surroundings in our gallery.

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

“Yoshiyuki, 59, took me to his former house that was also his small furniture factory in Odaka-ku where he had lived since he was born and worked locally for more than 35 years. In July in 2012, he moved all the equipment from his former home to his new home in another city, where he evacuated to and lives now, to restart the furniture business there. ‘We might return to Odaka-ku some day but I don’t want my children to live here,’ says Yoshiyuki.”

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

“‘I used to stand in front of this kamidana (a household altar) sacred to Odaka Shrine and pray every morning when we were living here before the disaster,’ says Kunio, 65. Standing solemnly in front of kamidana with gratitude as part of his daily routine was such a precious and calm moment for him. I’m very proud that all of my three sons participated in Soma Nomaoi. I’m deeply touched by the fact that we keep holding Soma Nomaoi trying to overcome the difficulties we faced after the disaster.’ He still remembers when he received an enthusiastic round of applause from the crowd at Japan Festival held in London back in 1991 when he dressed as samurai with others in front of the Tower of London. He felt connected with the English, many of who love horse riding. ‘At a dinner reception, I drank the water in the finger bowl by mistake. I thought it was water to drink,’ he gave a big laugh.”

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

“‘Ever since I was born, Odaka shrine was always there for me at important stages of my life,’ says Yoshimitsu, 48. He chooses Odaka shrine without hesitation as an important and emotional place in Odaka-ku for him. ‘I came here to celebrate Seven-Five-Three Festival (a festival to celebrate children’s growth and to pray for their future good health) and enrollment ceremonies, or to pray for success with my examinations. I even came here on my first date. And of course, Soma Nomaoi starts from Odaka Shrine every year,’ he says. He used to live in a house in Odaka-ku close to the Shrine, but now lives in a leased apartment in the neighboring next town with his family. In the past nine years, he has been serving as an executive director for a committee of Soma Nomaoi. ‘Soma Nomaoi is something that builds ties among people and that makes me grow. It is something that I am proud of being involved in from the bottom of my heart.'”

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

“Hironobu, 44, took me to a horse stable built by him and his family members after the disaster. Before the disaster, he used to run a youth horse club. Masaki and Kazuhito acquired horse-riding skills at that club to become Nomaoi Samurai warriors. Currently he is taking care of about 10 horses, including the horses that lost their owners and stables due to the disaster that he adopted, in a new stable with his family. He wakes up early to take care of the horses before going to work, and after returning home, cleans the stable and feeds the horses. ‘It’s tough. I can’t do it if I don’t love horses,’ he says. Hironobu used to live in Odaka-ku with his family and his parents, who all are Nomaoi Samurai warriors. His children and parents evacuated to his brother’s place in a neighboring city where there is little impact of radiation. His wife and he live in leased housing in the neighboring town of Odaka-ku where his works is. ‘It’s been hard for me that I can only see my children during the weekends,’ says Hironobu.”

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

“Akihito Sato, 38, stands in the garden of his parents’ house in Odaka-ku. All of his armor and horse gears for Soma Nomaoi are kept at his parents’ house together with those of his brothers, Kazuhito and Kunihito, and his father Kunio. ‘My friends and family members are all connected through Soma Nomaoi. Soma Nomaoi often helps to smooth the connection at workplace too,’ says Akihito. His commitment to Soma Nomaoi comes from his desire to ‘do it in a cool way’ which is to show your ‘Rectitude’ or ‘Justice,’ ‘Courage’ and the spirit of ‘Bearing’, ‘Benevolence’ and the feeling of ‘Distress,’ ‘Politeness,’ ‘Sincerity,’ ‘Honour,’ and ‘The Duty of Loyalty,’ which from Bushido spirits, subtly to others. Akihito takes pride in the relationship with his Soma Nomaoi mates that he grew up together from very young age. ‘I was able to overcome the disaster because of Soma Nomaoi,’ says Sato. He started his own construction business long time before the disaster. The majority of the job offers were related to the work inside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Currently he is busy with nuclear plant related jobs such as scaffolding for decontamination work. He now lives by himself in a leased housing in Minamisoma city because of the work situation having his family evacuated to another city.”

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

“Kazuhito, 33, stands in front of his parents’ house where he rose up in Odaka-ku. ‘The tsunami reached just a few hundreds meters away from this place and many people that I knew including Soma Nomaoi friends died,’ he says. After living at the evacuation center and his wife’s cousin’s house for several months, he now lives with his wife and his three children in neighboring prefecture and commutes one hour to the nuclear power plant where he worked before the disaster. He liked horses, especially horse racing, so much that he wanted to become a jockey when he was a teenager. All of his friends acknowledge his superiority in this field. He was happy that Kacchu- keiba (Armed Horse Race), which was canceled in 2011, was held in 2012. He decided not to bring his children to Hibarigahara where Soma Nomaoi events were held, when Soma Nomaoi events were held in 2012. ‘We cannot do anything here if we worry too much about the level of radiation exposure so tend to forget, but we just think it’s better for children to stay away from the area. We don’t know what the actual impact is though….’ he says.”

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi

Photo credit: Noriko Takasugi