Posted in Japan News

Fukushima Exclusion Zone Photographer Under Fire

A group of semi-viral images has gained some negative attention in Japan. Photographer Keow Wee Loong claimed to illegally cross in the Red Zone of Fukushima, an evacuated area where radiation is still considered to be too high for human exposure.

Photo Credit: Keow Wee Loong

In the text following this photo he explains: “before i went there the authority told me that i need a special permit to visit this town and it take 3-4 weeks to get the approval from the local council,, well too much bureaucracy bullshit for i just sneak in the forest to avoid cops on the road …AND IT WAS AMAZING !!!!!”

The “bureaucrazy bullshit” that he failed to do could land him in jail. Not only that, but the security around the area is tight. It is almost unbelievable that he managed to find a way through and inside that didn’t garner the attention of the guards stationed around the perimeter.

And yet, he apparently did: “There were too many cops on the main road, so we started our journey from Tomioka, then we went off the main road. We used Google Maps to navigate from one town to another.”

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Photo Credit: Keow Wee Loong


As you can see in the above photo, the man who was apparently going through laundry left in the machines from March 11th 2011 and onward decided to where a gas mack as protection. As neary anyone with a bit of science under their belt will tell you, radiation can go through gas masks, clothing, and…sandals. Loong claimes he lost his bank cards and money, and so he couldn’t afford to buy any of the proper equipment. It’s also one of the reasons he couldn’t wait the 3-4 weeks for the local council, because he didn’t have enough money to survive that long.

All the same, people are enraged at this complete lack of self-care, with commentors pointing out that by doing what he did he put not only himself at risk but also other people he came into contact with.  As reported by Zafigo: “There is also concerns the photos are encouraging others to engage in the risky behaviour as people are seen tagging their friends in the photos and commenting that they too want to visit Fukushima. Some have gone to the extent of reporting his photo album to the authorities and Facebook. At publishing time, Keow is barred on Facebook for ‘inflicting violence’.”

Many citizens of Fukushima are furious: “For them, breaking into the site was a very insensitive and rude action. Explaining that the photos are a misrepresentation of the Fukushima community, they questioned how he could blatantly disrespect the Fukushima community and the lives and livelihoods that were lost. One angry commenter described his act as an ‘exploitation’ of the Fukushima prefecture and its people for his own agenda.”

His own agenda being that of anti-nuclear technology. Loong makes comments like there was “a chemical smell in the air” and that “the fukushima daichi power plant exploded that lead to harmful radiation leaked.” In actuality, the plant went into meltdown with a few chemical explosions within its walls (which is why the walls were built so thick as to handle that kind of pressure), but those chemicals are still contained within those walls. The radiation leaked, but humans can neither smell nor taste the radiation.

As a former JET, I’m a part of the Alumni group. Today someone posted this in reaction to this news:

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JET Alumni Facebook

What Loong probably doesn’t realize is that Fukushima is a prefecture that is still suffering. He might as well have stepped on graves and took pictures of tombstones, that is the kind of violation those citizens feel. And yes, “sensationalist” is a pretty apt word for his both his story and the reaction from the media. People are dying to interview him, they want to get all the juicy details, meanwhile the residents whose homes he just tresspassed all over are being pushed aside for a sweet headline.

Also, the citizens of Fukushima are still economically stigmatized due to misunderstandings about radiation. People are still, after five years, scared to purchase any kind of produce, milk, or other products with the sticker “Made in Fukushima.” With these photos to remind people once again about the incident, with “proof” of the rediation still going on, there will be negative consequences.

Essentially, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about documenting a place of national tragedy, and Loong went with the very wrong path. By taking pictures without permission, stepping onto property and therefore tresspassing, he is telling the victims of the Daiichi Disaster that his cause matters more than their grief and their pain.

The “beauracracy bullshit” is there to protect the Red Zone, because it’s not an abandoned town to some people, it’s still home.

If you’re looking for a real photographer who did his homework and treated the people of Fukushima with the respect they deserved, I recommend Arkadiusz Podniesinski. His photos are not only haunting, but he makes a very detailed account with people who lived in the area telling their story to him. He treats the subject with care, as I wish all photographers would.