Three years ago, Japan’s northeastern region was devastated by a triple disaster of a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake, an ensuing tsunami that wiped away whole towns and caused the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. Affected deeply by the tragedy, Japan has since rallied together as a country to support those who lost loved ones, livelihoods and homes.
Last week, as a part of remembering the three years that have passed since the disaster, famed German camera maker Leica gave a high-end camera worth 1,200,000 yen (US$12,000) to a high school student whose community was devastated by the tsunami. Initially touched by the show of support, Japanese netizens began a heated conversation online about whether the very generous gift was a heart-felt present or just a PR stunt for the well-known camera maker.
On March 12, Leica gave the M Monochrom camera to the 18-year-old high school student from Miyagi Prefecture’s Shiroishi city. The girl, who began high school just weeks after the 2011 disaster, is a photography enthusiast who joined her high school’s photo club. Her high school suffered a great deal of loss as the tidal wave swept through the town, killing many of her classmates and leaving the schools with physical and emotional scars of that terrible day.
Although personal family matters have prevented her from getting into a local university’s photography department, she had wanted to continue the hobby after graduating this month. She said she was planning to save up some money from her new manufacturing job to buy a nice camera.
The girl told her friend Herbie Yamaguchi, a Japanese photographer who has worked with local Tohoku high school photographers to create a charity calendar to raise money for disaster victims, about her wish to continue her love of photography. Andreas Kaufmann, Leica board of directors chairman, heard about the girl’s wish and decided to give her one of his company’s cameras to let her pursue her passion without worrying about money.
At the gift-giving ceremony at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza neighborhood, the girl told the crowd that she hopes to “reach out and capture the hearts of people affected by the disaster through my viewfinder.” She also said that she already decided the subject of her first picture with her new camera—her family.
The reaction from Japanese netizens was mixed with some cynical voices questioning the motive behind the gift. The camera’s hefty price tag seemed to grab the attention of many who wondered if the company could have helped out far more victims with a cash donation rather than a high-end camera to one 18 year-old girl.
“Wouldn’t that money be able to help a lot more people if Leica had just donated it directly to a charity?”
“It sounds like Yamaguchi should be the real subject of this story since he is actually inspiring kids to get into photography!”
“This article just seems like an advertisement for Leica…”
Meanwhile, other Twitter users, though shocked at the cost of the camera, were happy to hear about a non-Japanese company trying to make a difference in the life of a young person so affected by the disaster. A few netizens wondered if the girl should just put the camera up on an online auction site, buy a cheaper camera and pocket the cash.
What do you think of Leica’s $12K gift to the girl? Could the money have been used better or are netizens just too cynical after a week of reliving one of Japan’s worst disasters?