The 21,000 people who lived in the Japanese town of Namie-machi before the 2011 tsunami still have not returned to it. They've been barred from re-entering the community within the Fukushima Exclusion Zone created by the tsunami's cascading nuclear disaster. But at least now these nuclear refugees – and the rest of the world – can virtually tour the town left behind.
As part of Google's ongoing project documenting the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami, which our Henry Grabar first wrote about here, the mapping giant has now sent its Street View cars through Namie-machi. As the town's mayor, Tamotsu Baba, writes on the Google Lat Long blog:
Many of the displaced townspeople have asked to see the current state of their city, and there are surely many people around the world who want a better sense of how the nuclear incident affected surrounding communities.
Google's previous archiving work in Japan captured cracked streetscapes and the three-dimensional interiors of crumbling buildings to store "memories for the future" of the worst of the damage. This project is a little different, and arguably more eerie. Some of the damage is still impressive:
But what's most compelling about these images is their total absence of people, particularly on those streets that don't look damaged at all.
This is one of the city's main streets, which, the mayor writes, "we often used for outdoor events like our big Ten Days of Autumn festival that saw 300 street stalls and 100,000 visitors":
Google Street View has become a powerful tool in myriad contexts for the way it portrays sidewalks, streets and buildings right at eye level. But one of the tool's charms has always been that these cameras capture pedestrians, dog-walkers, shoppers and schoolchildren right alongside the scenery. It's not until you tour a place like Namie-machi without people that you realize how much their presence changes the mood of a place.
In these images, the absence of people also means that no one has been around for the past two years to repair any of the damage.