On March 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the northeast region of Japan, which triggered one of the most devastating tsunamis in recorded history and caused massive destruction to the natural and built environment. Over 122,000 houses were destroyed,1 and many more were partially destroyed or submerged. Nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, located about 110 miles southwest of the earthquake’s epicenter, released a high dose of radioactive material, the effects of which are ongoing. The accident was rated a level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Project Locations in Relation to the Epicenter of the Earthquake in the Great East Japan Disaster of March 2011—From north, Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture; Onagawa City, Ishinomaki City, Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture; Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture; Tokyo. Source: Adapted from USAID.

This combined natural and technological disaster led to the evacuation of many residents; at its height, over 470,000 people were displaced. More than 119,000 individuals were still living in exile six years later, the majority from Fukushima.2 The disaster took the lives of 15,893 individuals, and over 2,500 people remain missing as of 2016.1 The disaster continues to affect people’s lives to this day. By 2017, an additional 3,523 deaths were recognized by the government as related to the disaster.2

As a nation that experiences many disasters, including earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and heavy snowstorms, Japan has a strong government-centered disaster prevention and response system. However, women’s experiences and perspectives have not been adequately reflected in disaster responses and policies in Japan; rather, major disasters tend to exacerbate predisaster inequities and intensify the vulnerability of women and other marginalized and disempowered groups.

With project sites in heavily affected areas of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectures as well as a group for evacuees living in Tokyo, The PhotoVoice Project aims to address these gaps in disaster response and policy, capturing women’s lived experiences and perspectives to inform the development of disaster policies and programs that are more socioculturally responsive to their conditions and needs.


Yoshihama, M., & Yunomae, T. (2018). Participatory investigation of the Great East Japan Disaster: PhotoVoice from women affected by the calamity. Social work, 63(3), 234-243.
Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/sw/article-abstract/63/3/234/4990807


1 National Police Agency. (2016). Heisei 23-nen Tohokuchiho Taiheyooki Jishin no higaijokyo to keisatsushochi [Damage caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Disaster and police responses].
Retrieved from https://www.npa.go.jp/archive/keibi/biki/higaijokyo.pdf

2 Reconstruction Agency. (2017). The number of evacuees nationwide.
Retrieved from http://www.reconstruction.go.jp/topics/main-cat2/sub-cat2-1/20170328_hinansha.pdf