Naoto Matsumura is adamant: “Animals and people are equal.”
That’s why the 55-year-old rice farmer returned to the Fukushima exclusion zone after being forced to evacuate. Despite warnings about high levels of radiation, he wanted to check on his family’s farm dogs.
In the wake of the devastating March, 2011 earthquake and subsequent melt-down of the nuclear reactor in their hometown, most people left their pets behind, expecting to return in a few days.
When Matsumura defied government orders and returned to Tomioka, he discovered his neighbor’s dogs still tied up, starving and begging for help. Touched by the suffering, he decided to stay behind and care for all the area’s abandoned animals— pets, as well as, ducks, pigs, ostriches, cattle and a pony.
One pooch he found had been locked in a barn for an entire year surviving only on the remains of dead cattle. Matsumura named him Kiseki or “Miracle.”
Every day for four years he’s been exposed to high levels of radiation. In fact, a University of Tokyo doctor said after an examination, his body contained the highest amount of radiation of any person in Japan. But, he also told Matsumura that he wouldn’t feel any symptoms for some 30-40 years.
They welcome occasional visitors, like journalists and crews of international media— especially in March around the disaster’s anniversary. Supporters sometimes bring donated food and water for both him and his animals. He travels out of the zone, to speak about the hazards of nuclear energy, and to visit family.
Even in his beloved town ravaged by radiation, new life springs forth— a calf, some kittens — while the fifth generation farmer raises a new generation of animals born there.
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