I have all the respect in the world for people who love animals. I live with three cats, and we are the best-possible friends. Animals love humans that care for them, and the love goes both ways.
A Fukushima resident (Tomioka Town) loves animals. So much, in fact, that he has wholly ignored the Tokyo mandated evacuation order and has lived within the “no-go” zone for nearly three years, about 6 miles from Fukushima Daiichi. He tends to the animals that survived abandonment resulting from the evacuation order of 2011. His name is Naoto Matsumura. He calls himself “Guardian of Fukushima’s Animals” on his Facebook page.
One might think that a man this bold, literally thumbing his nose at the establishment, would be something Japan’s largely-liberal Press would devour like a hungry wolves. However, the opposite seems to be the case, and it’s same with the major news outlets around the world. Information on this remarkable man can only be found on “second-level” news sources such as the Good News Network, VICE.com, Wamiz (an animal news site) and Mirror.com. The Mirror dubs Matsumura “Last Man Standing” and VICE labels him “Radioactive Man”. I’ll refer to him by his chosen nickname – Macchan – which seems to mean “friend”.
Macchan defied government orders in 2012 intending a brief visit at his Tomioka home to check on his farm’s dogs. He was surprised that no-one tried to stop him at the border of the exclusion zone. He ignored the warning signs and crossed the invisible border. Once he arrived at his empty home, he was struck by the plight of the abandoned neighborhood pets and decided to remain and tend to all of them; including cats, ducks, pigs, ostriches, cattle, and a pony. The animals thrive today because of Macchan. He comes and goes from the no-go zone because there are no laws forbidding him to do it. He manages to pay for needs of the animals, and himself, through personal savings and donations he gets through his web page.
He and his family evacuated to Iwaki when Tokyo ordered everyone to leave, but he eventually returned to Tomioka. Not because of a sentimental yearning to go home. Not because of a middle-aged man’s stubborn refusal to change. He simply could not leave his beloved farm animals unattended. When he first fed his own dogs, others ”started going crazy” so he fed and watered them too. Macchan recalls, “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.”
There are many questions we might ask concerning his decision to live in the zone and take care of the abandoned animals.
Is he being stubborn? Perhaps, considering what Macchan told one reporter, “I was born and raised in this town. When I die, it’s going to be in Tomioka.”
Is he concerned that the radiation exposure he is getting will eventually harm him? Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAEA) examined him and said he might be the most radioactive man in Japan. Macchan said, “[JAEA] told me that I wouldn’t get sick for 30 or 40 years. I’ll most likely be dead then anyway, so I couldn’t care less.”
Does he ever worry about the radiation? “I got used to the radiation. It’s not like I can see it, after all,” he says. Macchan adds that others who come and go from the no-go zone stop worrying about it, as well.
Why isn’t he afraid of radiation, like the vast majority of Fukushima’s evacuees? Macchan waxes nostalgic, “I was scared at first because I knew the radiation had spread everywhere. The next thought in my head was that if I stayed too long I’d end up with cancer or leukemia. But, the longer I was with the animals, the more I came to see that we were all still healthy and that we would be OK.”
Does he have a Geiger counter to monitor his exposure? Macchan answers, “Needles on the Geiger counter never stop moving, so if you brought one with you then you might still care. That’s why I don’t carry one. Even if I had one, I wouldn’t use it.”
One reporter brought a Geiger counter along for an interview with Macchan. Inside his house, the device read 2 microsieverts per hour. Outside, the reading was seven µSv/hr. Even though he lives in a place that exceeds Japan’s severe radiation exposure limit of 0.6 µSv/hr, Macchan is undeterred. One Kyoto University doctor said it is inconceivable that a normal person would live inside the no-go zone, but Macchan is anything but normal.
How does Macchan’s average exposure compare to the high natural radiation levels in the world. Tokyo researchers have found that the maximum amount of time the average farmer spends outdoors is about 8 hours per day. Using these values, Macchan would be getting about 88 µSv/day, or roughly 32 millisieverts per year…well-above Japan’s evacuation tipping point of 20 mSv/yr. However, Macchan’s annual exposure compares closely with the highest recorded populated beach areas of Guarapari, Brazil and Kerala, India, both at 35 mSv/yr. Further, Macchan’s annual dose is nearly eight times lower than what we find in Ramsar, Iran, which has a whopping 260 mSv/yr. In all three cases, the populations have no higher cancer incidences or death rates than their fellow countrymen. Thus, we can safely say that Macchan has nothing to worry about.
What does Macchan envision for the future? He says, “Animals and humans are the same… it could provide good experimental data for comparison with humans. If the animals survive, then there’s nothing to worry about. But, if the animals start giving birth to deformed young a few generations down the line, then things could get crazy.”
No matter what happens “down the line”, it seems Macchan will be there to witness it.
1. Radioactive Man; VICE America; http://www.vice.com/read/radioactive-man-japan
2. Last Man Standing: Fukushima animal lover stayed behind after nuclear disaster to feed abandoned animals; Mirror, UK; http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/last-man-standing-fukushima-animal-5338383
3. Four years after Fukushima, just one man lives in the exclusion zone – to look after the animals; Wamiz, UK; http://wamiz.co.uk/naoto-matsumura-macchan-fukushima-animals/
4. Just One Man Remains in Fukushima Radiation Zone – He’s Feeding All the Animals Left Behind; Good News Network; http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/just-one-man-remains-in-fukushima-radiation-zone-hes-feeding-all-the-pets-left-behind/