MINAMISANRIKU, Miyagi -- A fisherman has continued to capture the scenery and the faces of the people here since the town was devastated by the 2011 tsunami, providing smiles as well as the strength to look toward the future.
From the summer of 2011, 39-year-old Hirofumi Abe has continued to draw caricatures of people living in the affected areas, as well as capture the seaside scenery following the earthquake and tsunami disaster. While Abe once gave up his dream to be an artist to continue the family fishing business, he now says, "I want to draw caricatures that capture the humanity of the residents and scenes of Minamisanriku from the perspective of a fisherman."
"What kind of juice is that?" -- "You lost a tooth, huh?" Abe makes conversation with children on the beach as he draws their expressions. Six years have already passed since he began his work.
Abe was born into a fishing family in Minamisanriku, but his true passion was art. He studied painting at Tokyo Zokei University, and held exhibitions of his pieces while working part-time and temporary jobs. However, when his mother fell ill in March 2009, his life changed. Deciding that he could not make a living through his art, he set his brush aside and became a fisherman.
Two years later, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Minamisanriku. While his home and workplace where he sorted seaweed and other products were washed away by the tsunami, Abe and his family escaped to safety on higher ground. When he watched the news on the TV, he was met with images of people lying down wrapped in blankets in Minamisanriku evacuation centers. "Isn't there some way I can cheer them up?" Abe thought. Then he remembered a part-time job he had as a student drawing caricatures and headed to the evacuation centers with his supplies in hand.
While drawing, people would open up to him when he told them that he had also lost his home and workplace in Minamisanriku to the tsunami. An older woman joked and laughed with him about her wrinkles, and children were overjoyed with the drawings of their likeness. Abe says he was happy with the sincere response to his work, and his caricatures gained popularity.
Abe even drew those lost in the disaster upon request. At the end of 2011, he received just such a request from 59-year-old Mieko Endo, who had lost her 24-year-old daughter Miki. Abe repeatedly visited Endo's home in order to draw the caricature, and through small talk, he came to learn about Miki.
"He drew Miki's kind smile, which wasn't captured in photographs, that melts my heart," Endo says. "It feels like she is always with me. I was able to take the first step in continuing to live on after her." Abe also created a work of a smiling Miki surrounded by the happy faces of her relatives for Endo.
While Abe rebuilt his house, his seaweed-processing facility is still not up-and-running, and his fishing catch remains less than half of what it was before the disaster. However, through his art, Abe has changed too.
"When I returned to Minamisanriku, I fished out of a sense of duty, but since I began to draw the caricatures, I've also begun enjoying fishing," he says. Abe has also begun selling postcards of his paintings of local marine products and seaside scenery.
"From now on, I would like to continue conveying Minamisanriku's charms," Abe says.