The tsunami that hit the Tohoku region in 2011 has left deep scars, some of them in places not immediately obvious. Photographer Masahiro Kawatei’s series “The Voice of the Waves Through the Pines”, taken along the Tohoku coast from 2013 to 2019, concerns itself with the long-lasting shock of the disaster and creates a succinct, piercing document of the damage it has done.
The Japanese phrase “white sand, green pines” is a poetic expression of the beauty of a Japanese beach. Pine trees have been planted along the seaside for centuries, originally to protect coastal farmland and rice fields. It is a scenery familiar to most Japanese people, especially those who grew up near the sea, and to many the phrase is tied to nostalgic feelings of home.
Kawatei’s photographs show the coastal regions and beaches after the disaster. The few pine trees that have survived the tsunami stand isolated; they look sickly rather than idyllic. Mere reminders of a beauty that once was. Years after the event, the scars still remain in the landscape, unhealed.
“In a place where it is impossible to imagine the landscape before the tsunami, dead and surviving pine trees stand still wth a profound presence. This is now the landscape of this area, and unless people make improvements, this is the image that will be engraved in children’s minds as the landscape of their home.”
— from Masahiro Kawatei’s afterword (included in Japanese and English translation)