The World Health Organization's recent report on the fall-out of the Fukushima disaster appeared largely positive: radiation exposure has had only a minor impact on the overall health of the local population. Yet the meltdown of the Daiichi nuclear plant, two years ago tomorrow – not to mention the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that induced it – continue to have solemn ramifications for those who live in the area.
Soma-Nomaoi is an annual celebration of samurai culture that has taken place in Fukushima Prefecture for more than 1,000 years. Held in July, it is a three-day event at which 500 local samurai recreate battle scenes with familial flags hanging from their backs. Originally a military exercise, it is now a tradition that not only represents the spirit of the samurai (many of whom are farmers or have jobs related to the nuclear plant), but also acts as a catalyst to provincial pride.
The Tokyo-based photographer Noriko Takasugi travelled the 150 miles to Fukushima to shoot the Soma-Nomaoi warriors in places meaningful to them. Having spent time with them, she came to believe that the festival embodies their identity and their fight for survival against the fate dealt them. Let us not forget that some 16,000 people died of the tsunami and earthquake, while more than 160,000 remain displaced.
Takakatsu Mottate, 68 (pictured above), saw his home demolished by the tidal wave, while some of his horses were among the hundreds lost. Yet, in the run-up to the festival, he continues to practise horse-racing every morning along the beach in Soma City, where many of his neighbours' bodies washed up. Kunihito Sato, 40 (see gallery), is seen in front of his parents' house in Odaka-ku, where he had lived since he was born. The walls are cracked, yet it is the radiation still present that makes the house uninhabitable. Sato continues to work at the Daiichi plant, where he was employed at the time of the meltdown. "It has been tough working there since the disaster," he says, "but I could survive because of Soma-Nomaoi."
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