Client   Paul Smith
Year        2017

Tour de Tohoku: The Road to Here is an exhibition that came about after previously working with Paul Smith and the Japan staff as part of his cycling book release in Japan.

This year I was asked by them to ride and shoot the Tour de Tohoku and capture the view from the road and show how things look today which coincided with his design of the official jersey and support for the event.

In the six years since the Great East Japan Earthquake took place, normality has been slowly returning to the devastated region of Tohoku. In June 2011 I travelled with a Japanese team that were there just a few days after the disaster. Taking fuel and supplies, counselling and helping people throughout the affected area. We travelled along the coastline where the tsunami had struck, zig zagging inland when the roads were blocked, the ruthless waves had destroyed almost everything. The scene then was shocking; debris, twisted cars and remnants of what used to be homes.

Since then I've been fortunate to visit the area by bike in the years following to see what is a slow but real recovery, both in the people and the place itself – where progression is taking place after many years of restoring what was for so long a vast emptiness – rice fields are full, the roads and bridges have been reconstructed and fishing boats are back on the ocean. With as many as 36,000 people who lost their homes still living in temporary housing, however, things are far from normal.

The Tour de Tohoku allows people to meet the landscape head on, navigating the route by bike you see and feel much more of the place and its people, impossible by foot or by car. Cycling along this great expanse of water with few people around, it’s hard to connect the often tranquil roads with the violence once unleashed by nature only a few years earlier. But the evidence still remains, with these photographs I wanted to document the view from the road – the people, the reconstruction and the cyclists that form part of the landscape for a brief moment in time. Local people in this region need outsiders to visit, to bear witness and, more importantly, to ensure they are not forgotten.

©2019 Lee Basford