On March 11, 2011, a fierce earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan, claiming 15,000 lives and leaving behind unimaginable damage. The hardest hit areas were those surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which leaked radioactive materials after being struck by tsunami waves. Due to the risks of radiation exposure, the government’s 12.5-mile exclusion zone is still enforced.
The once populous exclusion zone was left completely abandoned as people fled in fear of their lives. In all of the chaos a number of furry friends remained left behind and largely forgotten, but not by all.
55-year-old Naoto Matsumura, known as the “Guardian of Fukushima’s animals” couldn’t possibly forgot all of the sweet furry friends left behind in the radioactive exclusion zone. Despite the risks the former construction worker returned to Fukushima to feed the animals.
Matsumura fled just like everyone else when the disaster first struck, but once in a safe zone he quickly realized he was missing his own animals, left behind with no one to care for them. He originally returned to help his pets, but ended up helping so many other abandoned animals, as he still does to this day.
Today, Matsumura is the only human that lives within Fukushima’s 12.5-mile exclusion zone. At first he admits he was worried to return due to the dangers associated with radiation. After all, DNA mutations and cancer are known side effects of radiation exposure.
When Matsumura got up the nerve to return he saw that the animals were still healthy. This gave him the courage to stay in Tomioka and care for the surplus of abandoned animals, including dogs, pigs, cats, cattle and some giant ostriches too!
The reality upon his return was sad, for one he discovered thousands of cows had died because they were left locked up in barns. He went to work freeing animals left locked up in barns and chains, giving them the chance to roam free again. Today, many of these animals still rely on him for food, and love.
Matsumura returned to Tomioka to care for the animals in 2011, and today, four-years-later, he remains. The government does not approve of his decision to remain in the exclusion zone, but that doesn’t stop him from staying right where he is. He says many others wish to return, including his own parents.
Despite what the government says, Matsumura has plenty of supporters who refer to him as the ‘Guardian of Fukushima’s Animals’. He relies completely on their kind donations to feed and care for the animals.
He and his animals remain happy and healthy, although he is still exposed to radiation on a daily basis. In an interview with BBC he says he “refuses to worry about it.” He even jokes that his chain smoking is probably a greater risk to his health.
He does take some precautions though, for instance he only eats food imported from outside of the exclusion zone, and he drinks safe water.
“They also told me that I wouldn’t get sick for 30 or 40 years. I’ll most likely be dead by then anyway, so I couldn’t care less.”
The town is desolate, isolated, at a standstill from the last day it was a thriving place many called home. Radiation still remains at dangerous levels but the worst of it has blown to the northwest of Fukushima. Tomioka, where Matsumura lives, is to the south.
Police and media are banned from the area, although when BBC news attempted to enter to interview Matsumura they were let in without question.
You can help support Naoto Matsumura and his selfless cause to help the animals. Learn more by visiting his Facebook page.