Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alone in the Zone: Naoto Matsumura, caretaker of hundreds of animals in evacuated Tomioka, Fukushima

Alone in the Zone (原発20キロ圏内に生きる男)
via filmmakers Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac for VICE Japan 

Naoto Matsumura and his elder parents lived on a rice farm in Tomioka, a coastal town in Fukushima prefecture, known for having one of the longest cherry blossom tunnels in Japan.

After hearing the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, eight miles away from their home, the Matsumuras  attempted to evacuate. However, they were turned away from a relative in Iwaki, a coastal town in southern Fukushima prefecture.  She feared they had been radioactively contaminated.  Afterwards, they were turned away from a shelter because it was full.

So they returned to their home, where his parents stayed until his mother became ill in April 2011. She then moved  to her daughter's home in Shizuoka where there was no room for the Matsumura's animals.  Therefore, Naoto Matsumura decided to stay—to take care of them.

He told filmmakers Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac that he gradually took on the task of caring for cattle, pigs, cats, dogs, and an ostrich (the sole survivor of a flock of 30 birds) throughout Tomioka, all left behind by owners who were initially told the evacuation would be temporary and short-term: 
Our dogs didn’t get fed for the first few days. When I did eventually feed them, the neighbors’ dogs started going crazy. I went over to check on them and found that they were all still tied up.

Everyone in town left thinking they would be back home in a week or so, I guess. From then on, I fed all the cats and dogs every day. They couldn’t stand the wait, so they’d all gather around barking up a storm as soon as they heard my truck. Everywhere I went there was always barking. Like, ‘we’re thirsty’ or, ‘we don’t have any food.’ So I just kept making the rounds.
Over a thousand cattle and hundreds of thousands of caged chickens died from starvation in Tomioka. Then on May 12, 2011, the Kan administration ordered the euthanasia of surviving cattle. But a bright spot for animal survivors was that Japanese authorities have allowed Matsumura to remain to care for animals since the return of the town's other 15,000 residents is unlikely.

(Left) A dog that survived trapped inside a cattle barn for a year and a half after 3/11 by eating the dead flesh of the starved cattle was rescued by Matsumura in the summer of 2012.  Naoto named the dog Kiseki (“Miracle”) because his hair eventually grew back. (Right) Kiseki, approximately two months after being rescued.
(Photo: Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac, VICE Japan )

Matsumura now spends six to seven hours a day feeding animals with supplies donated by support groups, before going to bed at around 7 p.m. He uses a solar panel to power his computer and cell phone and a kerosene heater and charcoal heated kosatsu (quilt-covered table) to keep warm during cold months. 

In the film, he describes Tomioka's idyllic past: 
Tomioka may be a small town, but it’s rich in nature. You’ve got the rivers, the ocean, and the mountains nearby. You can swim in the ocean, fish in the rivers, and go pick wild vegetables in the mountains. Except now we can't do any of that.
Filmmakers Jeffrey Jousan and Ivan Kovac share their motivation for making this film:
This is more than just the story of one man standing up to the government. Naoto Matsumura makes up the best inside each of us. We send him our emotional support and want the world to remember the sacrifice he is making for the animals and for his beliefs. In an age of social media, one man's story can easily be lost.

It is our goal that this doesn't happen to Naoto Matsumura. We hope you will feel the same way and join us to in showing our appreciation to this unique and courageous man. Naoto-San deserves much more than his 15 minutes of fame.
Background on Naoto Matsumura

警戒区域に生きる ~松村直登の闘い~ (Living in the Evacuation Zone ~ Naoto Matsumura's Struggle ~)  (Website of Naoto Matsumura's NPO)

Naoto Matsumura, Guardian of Fukushima's Animals  (Facebook page dedicated to Naoto Matsumura)

"The Most Radioactive Man on Earth Has the Kindest Heart (Julia Whitty, Mother Jones, March 12, 2013)

"Living Alone in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone"  (Tomo Kosuga, Vice, March, 2012) 

"Naoto Matsumura, Japanese Rice Farmer, Refuses To Leave Fukushima Nuclear Zone: (Eric Talmadge, AP via HuffPost, Aug. 31, 2011) 

Updates on Animals in Fukushima:

Animal Friends Niigata on FB

More Background on Animals in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone:

"Keigo Sakamoto cares for 500 animals inside the Fukushima Exclusion Zone" (TTT post, Oct. 8, 2013) 

"PROMETHEUS TRAP/ The disaster and animals: Woman repeatedly rescued pets in the Fukushima off-limits zone" (Article 8 of an investigative series by Misuzu Tsukue, Asahi, May 8, 2013)

"The Lost Pets of Fukushima: Photos" (, Dec. 12, 2012)


Towns evacuated around Fukushima on April 11th, 2011. (Image: Wikipedia)

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