Empty streets, abandoned schools, derelict supermarkets and destroyed homes.
These haunting images show buildings in the towns near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on Japan’s east coast, eight years after it suffered catastrophic meltdowns that forced people to flee for their lives.
A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered meltdowns at three of the six reactors at the plant, spewing radiation into the air, soil and ocean and forcing 160,000 residents living nearby to flee.
The eerie photos were snapped by Polish photographer Natalia Sobanska, who travelled to the coastal area near the plant to explore the abandoned buildings. Natalia spent two days there with her husband before they decided to leave after tripping a silent alarm in an abandoned high school, which led to them being surrounded by 24 policemen.
Natalia told MailOnline Travel: ‘When I first planned my trip to Japan with my husband, I was happy and excited that we would be going to Fukushima. But my happiness turned into overwhelming sadness with every step I took on the empty streets. I love abandoned places but seeing all of these things in schools and houses was so traumatic. When you are there, especially in the area which was affected by the tsunami, you are surrounded by the depth of the tragedy which happened there. It broke my soul.’
Scroll down to see a selection of Natalia’s haunting images from her trip…
Photographer Natalia Sobanska travelled to Fukushima to snap haunting images of the abandoned buildings there. She took this image inside a bookstore left to ruin
Natalia said she wanted to travel to Fukushima because she was curious to find out how it looked years after the tragedy
CDs and DVDs are piled up on the floor while some remain on the shelves inside a music store
Another shot from inside the abandoned CD and DVD store. Natalia said: ‘It was very important to me see with my own eyes how Fukushima looks now and to document it’
This building that Natalia came across in Fukushima had been a restaurant but is now filled with rubble and debris
Photographer Natalia took this eerie image of an empty games arcade filled with Japanese Pachinko machines
Natalia spent two days exploring Fukushima. Her visit, with her husband, came to an end when they tripped a silent alarm inside an abandoned high school and they were cornered by 24 policemen
Natalia explored the inside of an abandoned supermarket where the goods had just been left on the shelves
Electronic goods inside an abandoned supermarket. Natalia said: ‘Some people who used to live there can go back there if the area where they used to live is clean now, but the sad truth is that most of them don’t want to after what happened there’
Natalia visited Fukushima during a three-week visit to Japan. Pictured is a display of watches left to ruin in the abandoned supermarket
A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered meltdowns at three of the six reactors at the plant
The entrance to the abandoned supermarket in Fukushima. Natalia and her husband only visited abandoned places during their visit
Inside the gym and theatre of an abandoned high school. It had initially been transformed into an evacuation point
A piano lies in the middle of a music classroom. Natalia said: ‘I love abandoned places, but seeing all these abandoned things in schools and houses was so traumatic’
Natalia captured this snap in a first-floor classroom at the school. She says the line on the wall indicates where the water reached after the tsunami hit
The chairs are still neatly placed underneath the desks and work is still pinned on the wall inside this abandoned classroom
Natalia said: ‘When you are there, especially in the area where the tsunami hit, you are surrounded by the depth of the tragedy. It broke my soul’
The gym floor has started to collapse inside this abandoned school
Natalia said: ‘I’m a photographer and it’s important to me take artistic photos, but in Fukushima, I didn’t want to look at it like in art. My purpose was to show how it looks now and documenting.’ Pictured is the abandoned high school
Inside an abandoned computer classroom at the old high school. All of the equipment has been left in place
Natalia explained: ‘When I first planned my trip to Japan with my husband, I was happy and excited that we would be going to Fukushima.’ Pictured is the empty high school
Natalia discovered some abandoned homes in Fukushima, which she went inside
A large window frame in this home in Fukushima has collapsed and lies with the rest of the rubble on the ground
Wedding dresses remain on hangers while others are strewn across the floor in this abandoned wedding dress shop
Racks of clothes on hangers have been left untouched inside the dress shop
This room used to hold wedding ceremonies, but now resembles a scene from a horror film
Inside a laundrette that has been left untouched since the Fukushima disaster over eight years ago
No cars or pedestrians can be seen on the empty streets. Natalia said: ‘My happiness from being there soon turned into overwhelming sadness with every step on the empty streets’
The entrance to the red zone – the part of Fukushima where radiation is still high. Natalia says the area is monitored 24 hours a day
While walking along the streets of Fukushima, Natalia came across this house, which no longer has a front wall
A motorbike lies on the ground on wasteland outside a row of abandoned houses
Natalia visited an abandoned car dealership, where the vehicles for sale were still on display
A Mercedes car stands in an otherwise empty car park next to an abandoned supermarket
Road to nowhere: More cars, including a classic Mini, are lined up on a garage forecourt
A Lincoln car and a Chevrolet Impala are parked next to each other on the abandoned garage’s forecourt
This car would have transported coffins to funerals but the hearse now lies abandoned
THE FUKUSHIMA EXCLUSION ZONE – AND HOW TO VISIT
An earthquake and giant tsunami in March 2011 set off meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Restrictions are still in place in several towns closest to the plant, including Futaba, which were contaminated by radioactive plumes from the plant.
More than 40,000 people are still unable to return home as of earlier this year.
This September 4, 2017, aerial file photo shows Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reactors, bottom from right, Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3, in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan
However, evacuation orders in most of the initial no-go zones have been lifted.
Authorities lifted the evacuation order covering around 40 per cent of the town of Okuma in March after aggressive decontamination efforts – including removing topsoil and hacking down trees – led to a significant drop in radiation levels.
However, many people are reluctant to return home because of lingering concerns about radiation, and they have adapted to new jobs and homes after more than eight years away.
Only 367 people, or less than four per cent of Okuma’s population, registered as residents in the two districts where the order was lifted.
A survey last year found only 12.5 per cent of former residents wanted to return to their hometown.
Meanwhile, several operators now offer tours of the areas affected by the Fukushima disaster, which include visits to Namie, Okuma and Tomioka.
Japan Wonder Travel insists its excursion is totally safe as guests are exposed to just 0.001 millisieverts of radiation.
Its website claims that on a flight from New York to Tokyo, passengers are exposed to 0.1 millisieverts of radiation – meaning the radiation exposure on the tour is 100 times smaller than on the flight.
- More of Natalia’s pictures depicting abandoned places can be found on her Facebook and Instagram pages.