• Chunichi Shimbun


After Typhoon Vera, also known as the Isewan Typhoon, struck Japan in September 1959, local history researcher Kaneo Ogawa dedicated the next few months of his life to photographing the aftermath in his hometown.

The typhoon is estimated to have killed more than 5,000 people, making Vera the deadliest typhoon in Japanese history.

In Ogawa’s hometown of Minami Ward in Nagoya, the typhoon led to the deaths of some 1,417 people.

He took image after image of destroyed houses, victims mourning lost loved ones and signs of the city’s slow road to recovery.

Ogawa has about 1,500 images in his possession, including those entrusted to him by friends and acquaintances. But 55 years after the disaster, he is looking for someone to whom he can pass on the photos.

“I won’t live forever, and I want to find someone who can take my place,” the 80-year-old said.

Ogawa used to run a printing store in 1959. His house and office in Aichi Prefecture were spared from the flooding during the typhoon because the facilities were both built on high ground.

However, the typhoon severely affected his clients, which included government offices as well as private companies.

“Business stopped for a while. Since I had some free time, I decided to walk around my devastated hometown, look at the situation with my own eyes,” he said.

As he circled his hometown by bicycle, he saw the devastation left in the wake of the destructive tropical cyclone and storm surge.

Despite being shaken to the core, Ogawa took up his camera and started shooting.

“It was a terrifying sight, but I felt that someone needed to document this for future generations,” he said.

His collection includes the “mound of shoes,” in which children pray for the victims in front of a mound with a number of unclaimed shoes, a flooded elementary school, as well as a stack of logs that had destroyed a row of wooden residential houses.

No matter how ghastly the sights were, Ogawa made sure to document all that he had seen.

“The only thing I avoided photographing was the bodies and bodies lying on the street,” he said.

He pasted the photos on B1-sized sheets of paper, about a dozen to each sheet, and wrote accompanying captions for them containing such information as the location where each was shot.

Ogawa stores the papers inside a handmade wooden box.

“I want the current generation to look at the devastation that hit this city in the past, and be aware of the danger and take necessary precautions,” he said.

Ogawa believes these images depicting the fearsomeness of nature will surely serve as a warning sign for years to come.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Sept. 26.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.