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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.”