At first glance, the Japanese town of Minamisōma felt to me like a ghost town, blanketed in snow, depopulated, and dystopian. The town had already been divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into sectors deemed safe and unsafe for habitation. It was January 2012, nine months after a massive tsunami struck Japan’s eastern coast, killing almost twenty thousand people and triggering meltdowns at three of the five reactors at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Out of nowhere, three young men with guitar cases slung over their shoulders and white safety masks on their faces appeared, walking down a street empty of cars, the stores all shuttered. When I stopped them to ask what they were up to, they hesitated. Finally, one of them shyly said that they had a band, and that they were going to a studio to rehearse. He invited...

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