When video producer Yoshiki Kitagawa saw news of the Kumamoto earthquake on April 16, he was shocked. Fast-forward two months, and despite the devastation, he said there's no longer any media coverage of how people in the area are coping in its aftermath.
"Kumamoto is my hometown and when the earthquake hit there, I wondered what I could do to help," Kitagawa, now based in Tokyo, told me over the phone. "I wanted people from Tokyo to experience how the locals were coping over there so I decided to capture the challenges they were facing in 360."
To make his short 360-degrees videos, Kitagawa placed two Kodak SP360 4K cameras on a tripod and mounted and stabilised it on the back of a small truck, which he drove around the streets of Kumamoto as he filmed.
Kitagawa explained that people in Tokyo had already forgotten about the natural disaster due to the lack of sustained media coverage. He attributed this fact to the fewer number of fatalities caused by the Kumamoto earthquake compared to larger earthquakes such as the Great Hanshin earthquake that hit Kobe in January 1995, and the Tohoku earthquake that hit northeastern Japan in March 2011, triggering a massive tsunami. The Kumamoto earthquake claimed 49 lives, and the Hanshin and Tohoku disasters claimed 5,502 - 6,434 and 15,800 lives respectively.
"When there are fewer casualties, people assume that the situation isn't that bad over there, but when you go to Kumato, you see how certain areas look like they've been ravaged by a war," said Kitagawa.
Kitagawa has previously made a 360-degree film for the five-year anniversary of the March 2011 twin earthquake and tsunami disaster in Tohoku. He usually works as a project producer for classical music concerts, but is keen on honing his use of 360 and VR. He said that both mediums were used to a certain extent by Japanese media outlets such as NHK and Yomiuri, but suggested that big news organizations put more thought into their use.
"I think it's important that these organizations explore how 360 and VR can be used to the best effect," said Kitagawa.
He suggested that often these organizations took 360-degree images that could've been taken with a regular camera, and that to create the best viewing experience, it was important to think more critically. Kitagawa, for example, likes capturing images in 360 while on a moving vehicle, saying this exploits the medium's capabilities.
Next up, Kitagawa wants to widen the application of 360 to a fundraising campaign for the people of Kumamoto afflicted by the earthquake.
"Usually when people fundraise, they just go from home to home with a money box. I want to put a VR experience with that activity so that people can experience what they are actually contributing funds to," said Kitagawa, who hoped that once people understood how bad things were in Kumamoto, they'd be more likely to donate money to help rebuild the city.
Cool Japan is a column about the quirky and serious happenings in the Japanese scientific, technological and cultural realms. It covers the unknown, the mainstream, and the otherwise interesting developments in Japan.