Lonely Planet Writer

Daring photographer captures haunting pictures from inside Fukushima Exclusion Zone

More than five years after Japan suffered an earthquake and tsunami  that caused an explosion and triple nuclear meltdown at the power plant in Fukushima, the town remains abandoned.

An abandoned shop inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.
An abandoned shop inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. Image by Keow Wee Loong

The 12-mile radius surrounding the old power plant has become an exclusion zone with varying levels of security and prohibited access. That fact didn’t stop 27-year-old Malaysian photographer Keow Wee Loong from exploring the abandoned area and taking a series of images and video from inside the heart of the exclusion zone.

Photographer Keow Wee Loong explores an abandoned laundry in Fukushima.
Photographer Keow Wee Loong explores an abandoned laundry in Fukushima. Image by Keow Wee Loong

“I wanted to explore the unknown and experience what it is like to be in a ghost town. When I was young, I always dreamed of visiting a shopping mall with no people in it to see what it would feel like. When I arrived in the city, there was dust, spider webs and severe structural damage due to the earthquake that had triggered the nuclear meltdown. It wasn’t like how I had imagined my dream,” Keow explained. The magnitude 9 earthquake was one of the biggest in world history. It moved Japan’s main island of Honshu eastward by eight feet and stirred up a tsunami that caused damage to the power plant’s emergency cooling system. This led to the meltdown and the release of radioactive material. “It was shocking. Near the coast, for almost 2km there is an empty wasteland filled with radioactive material where once there were wooden residential houses. The entire town is empty and dead silent. It’s like something from a movie. People evacuated the city quickly and had no time to pack. New cars were left abandoned in the street,” Keow told Lonely Planet News.

A quick evacuation led to many cars being left abandoned on the streets.
A quick evacuation led to many cars being left abandoned on the streets. Image by Keow Wee Loong

There are varying levels of accessibility throughout the region and it is possible to get permits to visit the wider area. However, Keow decided to forgo that formality, hiking straight into the Exclusion Zone at 2am with his two friends to avoid detection. They parked just outside the green zone and walked through the towns of Tomioka, Namie, Futaba and Okuma, guided by a GPS.

 

He was worried about being caught and possibly facing deportation or a heavy fine, but was prepared for the consequences linked to exploring such a unique place.“No pain, no gain. The photos that I took will be part of Japanese and world history,” He said. Thankfully for Keow, no legal troubles came from his trip. He is also feeling fine after his possible exposure to radiation in the area. He had a mask on during his time there, but could not afford any proper precautionary clothing, choosing instead to go in shorts and a jacket.

The magnitude 9 earthquake that struck the area was the biggest in Japan's recorded history.
The magnitude 9 earthquake that struck the area was the biggest in Japan’s recorded history. Image by Keow Wee Loong

“I feel fine and am doing great! I’m planning many more adventures like this one,” Keow said. Despite efforts from the government, it is thought to take many years before Fukushima is cleaned up to a high enough standard for habitation.