Editor's note: Staff photojournalist Takaaki Iwabu traveled to Japan to produce this personal narrative of the spirit and culture of his homeland following the earthquake and tsunami.
I felt almost nothing inside the tsunami destruction zone.
In Ishinomaki, one of the Japanese coastal towns shattered by the killer wave, I just kept working the shutter to photograph surreal scenes.
A car sat on the top of a fishing boat that had crashed into the second story of a building. The chaos of it robbed me of my ability to understand reality. I shamelessly searched for better angles to shoot more photographs.
But later, in a cozy cafe in the city of Sendai with a hot drink in my hand, my body trembled, and I wanted to cry.
I am Japanese but I've lived in the U.S. for 20 years, nearly half my life, and I was in Raleigh when the tsunami struck. Personally, I have always tried to avoid looking at the world through a lens of country or ethnicity - my little stand against shallow generalizations and nationalism. People are people, wherever we are born.
Then why did my heart race as I was glued to the TV screen on March 11 and the following week? If I were a citizen of the planet, as I always try to view myself, why did I feel more pain watching Japan suffer than when I heard the news about disasters in other countries?
Despite my long absence, I must admit that I still feel a strong sense of belonging in Japan. These are my roots.
Watching from a distance was torture. I needed to be there. So I jumped on an airplane 10 days after the tsunami that brought the nation down.
Pundits say a natural disaster exposes the weakness of the society it strikes. They are right. What we have seen in Japan so far is a painful lack of leadership and organization.
In Ohfunato, a volunteer chef who creates 1,500 meals a day for tsunami victims told me that he also has to make the rounds of the shelters to collect head counts because nobody is coordinating food service. Meanwhile, the country's politicians and the officials in charge of the leaking nuclear reactors at Fukushima seem intent on worsening the tragedy with disastrous public relations.
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