Ty Williams – Fukushima

About a month ago, our friend Ty Williams travelled to Japan to paint murals on local fishing boats in Fukushima. In case you have been under a rock lately (probably rightfully so to avoid the nuclear fallout), Fukushima was the site of the tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown on March 11th, 2011. Very scary stuff with global repercussions. We sat down with Ty to hear about his experience. Check out the full story and his photos from the trip here:

About a month ago, our friend Ty Williams travelled to Japan to paint murals on local fishing boats in Fukushima. In case you have been under a rock lately (probably rightfully so to avoid the nuclear fallout), Fukushima was the site of the tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown on March 11th, 2011. It is the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Very scary stuff with global repercussions.

While painting happy fish on the boats of fishermen who lost everything including their homes and entire families, the simple gesture did prove to bring a glimmer of happiness, hope and positivity to a community that has been devastated in the wake of disaster. Upon his return, we sat down with Ty while going through his photos from the trip to get his take on what is going on these days in Fukushima. Here are his words and images reflecting on the trip.

Why did you go to Fukushima?

I was contacted a few months ago and told about a group of fishermen who were in the IWATE area of Japan (part of the area that was absolutely destroyed by the tsunami), and through a gallery that I work with in Tokyo I was asked if I would come and put a fish image on some of the boats that survived the tsunami. (in a way as a good luck symbol, and also signifying that someone went there and heard some of their stories). I was very honored and agreed to go right away. I had never been to the north area of Japan and given this opportunity I knew I needed to go.

How did the idea for this trip come about in the first place?

I had a show in Tokyo last may and the gallery that showed my work discussed with me the possibility of maybe doing something small and personal with some of the people in the north who were hit by the disaster. The gallery works with a few other organizations and through the grapevine my name came up and my fish.

Have you been to Japan before?

I have been to Japan a few times I think this was my 4th or 5th trip. I stayed for a whole summer in 2009 which led to me eagerly returning whenever I can.

What do you love most about Japan and Japanese culture?

There are many things I admire about Japanese culture, but a few points that stand out to me immediately are the Japanese’s way of practicing restraint and patience. So much of their culture is about the process rather than the end result (the complete opposite of ours). Through this approach, they live a cleaner more efficient life and you see this in every aspect of a day over there (Especially in the rural towns outside of the cities).

What is your favorite place in Japan?

My favorite place in Japan is Kamakura. It has become a second home for me and is where I spent the first summer and its where I always end up. Its a beach town and has good waves when there is a little swell. The town is bike friendly which i really like. Kamakura also has the daibutsu (the giant buddha) as well as some amazing shrines and temples that I used to visit. The food and bar scene is also great.

What is your best memory from Japan?

There are too many memories, but one that sticks out in my head would be from this recent trip with the fishermen. A few of them lost their families, lost their houses, and had to rebuild their lives, and when I arrived, as a visitor they took the day off from fishing to be with me on the dock while I painted these seemingly meaningless fish (to me) but after, just wanted to talk and tell me about life there before and after the ocean took their lives away. Being around for people and doing something that you don’t think is that big of a deal can sometimes really surprise you in how it affects someone else. I will remember those men for the rest of my life.

How does it look and feel over there now? Has a lot been rebuilt or there still a lot of visible destruction?

When I first arrived I thought; “wow this is a beautiful amazing countryside.” It had sprawling green fields that ran up to the water and there was nothing for a long distance. After getting out of the car, I realized in some of the fields there were hundreds of foundations where homes once stood and over the past 2 years had been blanketed with grass and vegetation. Certain places have been rebuilt, but there still is work going on for some of the larger structures. You can still find visible destruction in places but for the most part much of it has been very neatly cleaned up.

How do the people of Fukushima seem to be holding up?

There are some people who still walk the beaches calling out for loved ones that were never found, there are some people that moved away and never returned, there are some that vow to never look a the ocean ever again, but there are also many that plan to move forward and have no choice but to keep going. Despite the uncertainties of radiation levels and the long term effects of all of it, there is a good portion of people who are continuing on living in that area.

I heard heartbreaking things from the villagers, but visually something I will never forget was while driving through a damaged area I asked our driver what a spray painted symbol on some of the buildings meant? I saw it a few times as we passed by on some of the damaged structures. It was a simple spray painted circle with an “X” in the middle. He explained that after the tsunami when they were recovering people they had to store them in buildings and the symbol was sprayed on the side symbolizing “bodies inside”.

Where and what did you paint?

There were a few boats that miraculously survived the destruction and I got to paint on one and decal a few others. We were very pressed on time there so I wanted to make sure whatever I did I could do quickly and then be able to listen to some of the stories the men wanted to share.

How did the locals respond to your art and you being there?

The men were all really happy to have their boats embellished a little. Some men brought some members of their families down and we all ate together. After painting one of the boats, I went for a little ride on it around the small bay. The fisherman seemed happy to have someone come.

What do you think is next for the people of Fukushima?

There is a lot of uncertainty about what is next for the people in the areas affected by all of this, especially now with the silent aspect of radiation poisoning. I think a better question would be what is next for PEOPLE (in general)? This whole disaster in Japan has done a lot more than just wipe out towns and kill thousands of innocent humans, it has made the world population aware of the impact that we have on “everything” when screw around with nuclear poison. I like to think we would make some changes. I’m curious to see how things transpire over the next 10 years when we start to see the real effects of all of this beginning to show itself and how we here in the United States will respond to it.

Will you travel to that region again in the future?

I would visit there again, I certainly will visit Japan sooner than later. I have a few projects I would like to get started on in the fall or winter over there.

I’d like to thank SLOPE GALLERY
And the extremely tough people affected by March 11th.
Much love

/ Photography: Ty Williams
/ Interview: Matt Titone

We will be featuring Ty’s art in our online shop that will be added on a regular basis. A portion of the sales of these works will go to helping Fukushima rebuild. Check out Ty’s artwork available for purchase here:

Shop Ty Williams Art

Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director. In 2006 he moved west to Venice, CA where he co-founded ITAL/C Studio and now resides a bit further north in Oxnard.

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