February 2013: Matsumura feeds ostriches at his home in Tomioka. (Ruairidh Villar/Reuters)

March 2013: Farmer Naoto Matsumura, 53, speaks during an interview at his house in Tomioka, inside the nuclear exclusion zone surrounding the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. (Greg Baker/AP)

Naoto Matsumura, a former rice farmer, lives in Tomioka, Japan, six miles from the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant and within the 12.4-mile nuclear exclusion zone. He lives alone, except for the 50 cows, two ostriches, dogs, cats and other animals in his care.

When the earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, the reactor meltdown forced the government to evacuate everyone living inside the exclusion zone. Matsumura, in a 2013 interview, says residents departed so quickly that farm animals were left tied up in barns, chickens were left in cages and pets were left locked inside homes. Matsumura returned months later to find scores of animals dying or dead from starvation. He made it his mission to take care of those he could help.


March 2013: Matsumura feeds a pony at his farm. Matsumura is the only resident to have stayed in Tomoike since the meltdown on March 11, 2011. (Greg Baker/AP)

Matsumura drives across a field after feeding cattle at his farm. (Greg Baker/AP)

February 2013: Naoto Matsumura, 53, feeds cows in Tomioka. (Ruairidh Villar/Reuters)

Farm animals inside the zone were exposed to such high levels of radiation that they could not be sold for food. The government wanted them slaughtered, but Matsumura says it would be wasteful to kill them.


August 2011: Naoto Matsumura saws a fallen tree as it blocks a mountain road near Tomoika. (Hiro Komae/AP/DAPD)

May 2014: Cow farmer Masami Yoshizawa at his cattle farm next to the exclusion zone near the Fukushima plant. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Rancher Masami Yoshizawa lives in what is now the ghost town of Namie, also within the exclusion zone. Yoshizawa created and runs a sanctuary named the “Ranch of Hope” where he cares for contaminated cattle that the Japanese government wants to destroy.


May 2014: Yoshizawa feeds his cattle. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

May 2014: Cattle graze at Yoshizawa’s farm. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

June 2014: Yoshizawa shows a black bull with speckles to the media as police officers block him from leading it off of his truck in front of the Agriculture Ministry in Tokyo. (Koji Sasahara/AP)

In June 2014, farmers from the Fukushima area brought a spotted cow to a protest in front of the agricultural ministry in Tokyo to demand that the government launch an investigation into why some of their cattle had developed mysterious white spots all over their hides.


Sept. 2013: Keigo Sakamoto, 58, holds Atom, one of his 21 dogs and over 500 animals he keeps at his home near the exclusion zone near Naraha in Fukushima prefecture. (Damar Sagolj/Reuters)

Farmer Keigo Sakamoto refused to leave the exclusion zone around the Daiichi power plant. His farm is a sanctuary for chickens, geese, goats, dogs and other animals, many of which were abandoned by previous owners. His dog is named Atom, because it was born just before the 2011 disaster.( Damar Sagolj/Reuters)


Sept. 2013: Sakamoto walks between the cages of some of the many different animals in his care. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Sept. 2013: Sakamoto feeds some of the animals. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Sept. 2013: Noboru, left, and Nagako Harada stand among their cows in the evacuated town of Namie in Fukushima prefecture. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

The Haradas travel every day back to Namie to take care of their 30 cows, even though they can no longer be sold to market. “Cows are my family. I don’t want to kill them, I don’t know what to do”, said Norobu. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)


Aug. 2011: Naoto Matsumura walks with his dog, Aki, to check on his rice paddy in Tomoika. (Hiro Komae/AP/DAPD)

September 2013: Naoto Matsumura stands in an empty street in the evacuated town of Tomoika. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Matsumura and others continue to care for animals abandoned within the exclusion zone. In a 2013 interview with Matsumura, he says that at first he was worried about getting cancer or leukemia, but doctors told him that would not happen for 30 or 40 years, so he no longer worries about it, saying, “I’ll be dead by then anyway.”

See a video interview with Naoto Matsumura.
Naoto Matsumura’s Facebook page.