He is the King of The Forbidden Zone; its protector. He is the caretaker or empty houses,
a point of contact for those citizen who can’t return. He takes care of the animals,
“the sentient beings”, that remain behind because no one else will. - japansubculture.com
We want to share two pieces about this extraordinary man. The first is from
Japan Times, and the second is from Japan Subculture Research Center.
Lone Holdout's First Nuclear Winter Looms in Tohoku
by Christopher Johnson
December 21, 2011 Japan Times
MIHARU VILLAGE, Fukushima Prefecture — As bitter winds blow around cesium and other radioactive particles spewed from the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant's reactors, Naoto Matsumura lights a cigarette, which he considers relatively good for his health.
In the zone: Naoto Matsumura, who believes he is the only person still living in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. (Christopher Johnson Photo) "I would get sick if I stopped smoking; I have a lot to worry about," says Matsumura, 52, who reckons he is the only person still living within a 20-km radius of the world's worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.
|Some of the cats he tends to.|
Living without electricity or enough money to fill his generators with gas, even as the mercury is already dipping below zero, Matsumura wonders if his neighbor's supply of charcoal will be enough to keep him warm through the frigid winter in his corner of the once-thriving town of Tomioka that used to be home to 16,000 people.
He's worried, too, that the hundreds of animals he's been feeding since the area's other residents were evacuated in haste on March 12 — some 400 cows, 60 pigs, 30 fowl, 10 dogs, more than 100 cats, and an ostrich — won't survive to see another spring.
"They need help from humans," he says while lighting another of the 20-odd cigarettes he admits to smoking a day. "My supplies to feed them will be gone by the end of December. They need food, and buildings for shelter from the winter. I'm the only one taking care of everything. The government should do it, but I'm doing it."
As we stand in a rice field outside the exclusion zone about 40 km due west of the ongoing meltdowns, Matsumura tells me that he comes from an ancestral line of samurai, and he was raised by a "spartan" father to work hard and think for himself.
A lifelong farmer, he's lived alone since separating from his wife 10 years ago. When his worried children, aged 23 and 21, called from their homes in distant Saitama Prefecture after the explosions in March, Matsumura says he told them: "Don't worry. If the whole world dies from this nuclear disaster, I'm still not going to die. I'm not going to leave here."
Indeed, this silver-haired, soft-spoken man of the land who has enjoyed playing golf in Saipan and the Philippines, says he now views himself as a lone maverick in a toxic desert — one hunted by an invisible enemy called "radioactivity" eating away at living things now and into the future. As the other animals perish around him, he wonders when it will be his turn.
All Matsumura's friends have left, and they no longer ask him to bring their stuff to them in the temporary shelters they must now inhabit. The automatic vending machines, which used to light up the country roads, no longer work.
After sunset, he is surrounded by miles of total darkness devoid of human movement. He has no television or Internet, only a cellphone that loses charge all too quickly. He stokes up a charcoal fire in his house, tucks himself into a futon, and goes to sleep by 7 p.m. — haunted by nightmares of what could be happening inside his body.
Waking with the rising sun, he eats another can of food, and takes his dogs for a 20-minute walk among barren fields. He spends daylight hours cleaning grave sites and tending to animals withering around him in their stalls, sheds and barns. Meanwhile, cows and pigs and other animals set free by their fleeing owners in March now fend for themselves in wild, radiation-contaminated nature.
Even nine months after everybody else fled on March 12, Matsumura says he is still shocked by the scenes of cruel death he encounters daily: the bones of cows that starved tied up or in confined spaces after they'd eaten all their fodder; a locked cage full of 20 shrivelled canaries denied by their keeper's panic even a chance to fly away free.
"People don't want to see dead animals. They would be shocked if they saw it for themselves. I see it every day," this animal-lover says quietly with real feeling.
His efforts to publicize the plight of the animals haven't worked, he says. He tells how he once showed a low-level government official around nearby Tomioka town — formerly famous for having one of the longest cherry-blossom tunnels in Japan — and told him they should at least take away carcasses. But even though Tepco brings in thousands of workers to stabilize the reactors, he says the official told him: "Sorry, Mr. Matsumura, we can't do anything inside the 20-km evacuation zone."
On April 21, more than a month after the ongoing disaster began, Matsumura joined a protest outside Tepco's headquarters in Tokyo. "I told them, 'Take care of the pets and farm animals, it's your responsibility.' But they only said, 'We are studying it.' They still haven't taken action," he reported.
In September, he showed two lower-level Tepco officials around Tomioka. During their conversation together, he says, "I told them to tell the top people about what they saw. Maybe they told them, but the top guys pretend they don't know anything," he said, pausing to light a cigarette. "They don't have human hearts. They only think about money."
Though he's not alone in lambasting Tepco, Matsumura's rage is more intense than most. He blames Tepco for "killing" his 100-year-old aunt, who he says died from exhaustion after being moved from several hospitals between Tomioka and finally Aizu-Wakamatsu in western Fukushima Prefecture.
|Odd company: This ostrich is among the animals sharing the |
evacuation zone, and facing a Tohoku winter, with Matsumura.
He says Tepco, which will need massive taxpayer funding to stay afloat, has only paid nuclear refugees ¥1 million each in compensation (about $12,000).
Yet the company, which claims to be on schedule with its plan to achieve a cold shutdown of the damaged reactors by the new year, saw fit to present itself in a positive light when, on Nov. 12, it invited 35 journalists (including four from overseas) for a first media view of its wrecked nuclear plant.
"I think it's remarkable that we've come this far," Environment Minister Goshi Hosono told those on the tour. "The situation at the beginning was extremely severe. At least we can say we have overcome the worst."
Such hints of hubris, however, sit uneasily with the established facts.
In November, the esteemed journal Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences carried the results of an international research study led by Teppei Yasunari of the Universities Space Research Association in Maryland. This found that radioactive cesium had "strongly contaminated" the soils in "large areas" of eastern and northeastern Japan, including Fukushima Prefecture, while western Japan had been relatively sheltered by mountain ranges. (To view this report, visit www.pnas.org/content/108/49/19530.)
Since the release of those findings, the Tokyo government has recently banned the sale of rice from large swaths of Fukushima Prefecture after high levels of cesium were found in crops from Onami, about 65 km northwest of the nuclear power plants.
Though Matsumura, who doesn't have a geiger counter, says he somehow thinks radiation levels are decreasing, he believes it's not safe for former residents to return to Tomioka. And he's adamant that children shouldn't eat rice from eastern Fukushima Prefecture, though he does himself.
Parking his white Suzuki truck near Koriyama City train station outside the evacuation zone, he says that his plight and that of the animals in his locality is not widely known in Japan — largely, he riles, because TV companies have ignored him or repeatedly canceled segments about him.
"It's now impossible for me to meet with Japan's mainstream media," he explains. "If I say bad things about Tepco, and the government, they won't run it because Tepco is their sponsor."
One tabloid magazine, Friday, did run a two-page feature on Matsumura, with bizarre photos of him feeding an ostrich — which it quipped in bad taste was "the official mascot of Tepco."
So, as he believes himself to have been ostracized in his native Japan, Matsumura has made a few trips to Tokyo to beg foreign journalists to tell the truth about Fukushima. To reach him inside the no-entry evacuation zone, one such from Italy walked along railway tracks for 20 km under cover of darkness to evade police patrols. Searching for him, as their meeting was prearranged, Matsumura says he could hear the man's footsteps in a pitch-black railway tunnel. "When he was about 10 meters away, I called out ghost noises — and he was dumbstruck with fear. He later told me he'd thought his heart was about to explode."
Another visit Matsumura received recently was on a Sunday afternoon in November. The farmer tells how an ambulance suddenly showed up at his door. "I was a bit unnerved that they'd come into my house, and I didn't know who'd sent them," he said, adding that "they checked my body and my health, but they didn't find anything bad in particular."
He gets most passionate talking about the abandoned animals and about nuclear energy. "The whole world should stop using this bad form of energy. Anything we build with our hands can break someday," he says. "Governments should stop lying to us. Everybody in Fukushima — everybody — doesn't believe the news about the nuclear situation."
As he prepares to leave me at the station and return to his home in the no-go zone before night falls, he says that Tomioka, like other towns in the evacuation zone, will disappear unless drastic action is taken immediately.
As he put it: "Only senior citizens are saying they want to move back, not the younger people. Eventually, in 20 years, all these elders will pass away, and there won't be any younger generation to maintain the circle of life. Nobody will be left."
But for now, he says, he's going to stay. "I am not bored or depressed, because I'm used to being alone. I know I am doing the right thing. My own doctor says I'm a 'champion of radiation.'"
The Buddha of Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone
JANUARY 15, 2012 | NATHALIE-KYOKO STUCKY japansubculture.com STORY LINK
This is the story of Naoto Matsumura, Tomioka City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan–the last man standing in Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone. He will not leave; he risks an early death because his defiance of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the government is his life now. He is not crazy and he is not going. He remains there to remind people of the human costs of nuclear accidents. He is the King of The Forbidden Zone; its protector. He is the caretaker or empty houses, a point of contact for those citizen who can’t return. He takes care of the animals, “the sentient beings”, that remain behind because no one else will. He is the Buddha of the forbidden zone.
For more than nine months, the 20 km zone around the Fukushima power plant has been a forbidden zone, where evacuation is an obligation for everyone, except one man. Since the nuclear accident, Naoto Matsumura refuses to leave his farm. At the age of 52, this farmer is physically in a good shape. In the city of Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, where he currently lives, there is no water and no electricity. “When I wake up in the morning, I take my dogs for a nice walk. I brushing my teeth. I do this for about twenty minutes. And then I try to think about what to do for the rest of my day”. Matsumura usually eats instant ramen, which are easy to prepare with a bit of boiled water. He drinks mineral water when he manages to find some. In summer, he took showers in the greenhouse, with the water from the river, which he boils with charcoal he finds here and there. The water from the river is radioactive. Before the nuclear accident, Matsumura used to fish at the river. Last summer, he did his laundry there. With a large smile on his face, Matsumura says: “I love fishing. The rivers and the sea here are full of fish, however I cannot eat them, because they contain too much cesium. The rain of cesium particles spread by the crippled Fukushima Number 1 power plant after the nuclear meltdown back in March has contaminated them.”
Tomioka is a small town that stands between the Fukushima Number 1 and Number 2 power plants. It used to be a quiet little town on the Pacific coast of Japan, where 16,000 inhabitants lived before March 12. To this day, some elderly people have been coming and leaving, but there is only one citizen who has stayed and lived there continuously. Tomioka was been evacuated on the next day after the tsunami hit. The orders from the authorities were clear and simple: “Take the minimum amount of your possessions and get out.”
The refugees from Fukushima (Tomioka) have abandoned their houses, their belongings, their cars, their pets, but they hoped to come back afterwards. The last people who were resisting the orders like Matsumura, felt they had to give up the fight. TEPCO, the private operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, after first denying any meltdowns later revised their statements to acknowledge the core of three reactors had melted down and that the “problem” might still be actually solved… after 30 years. Matsumura notes that “TEPCO and the Japanese government have never stopped lying, out of their good will, in order to avoid panic among the population. Such good intentions, of course.”
Despite his white hair and mustache, Matsumura looks like a Hollywood actor. He smokes twenty “Mild Seven” cigarettes a day: “I buy cigarettes when I go out of the forbidden zone from time to time. I like smoking. If I quit smoking now, I may get ill!” He laughs.
Back in June 2011, according to a photographer who entered the forbidden zone to visit Matsmura: “Around his newly built house on the top of a hill in Tomioka, enormous spider nets invaded the vegetation, like everywhere else in the ghost town. Enormous spiders seemed to take advantage of the radioactivity and the evacuation of the zone in order to pullulate”.
Matsumura has been looking after 400 cows, 60 pigs, 30 fowls, 10 dogs, more than hundred cats and an ostrich. The ostrich was the official mascot of TEPCO; they brought it to the town, allegedly. The ostrich was supposed to represent energy efficiency. The ostrich needs very little food to survive and thrive; it’s a very energetic animal. Unfortunately, it also has a tendency to bury its head in the sand when dealing with danger and is not a very bright bird. It makes a fitting symbol for TEPCO and its executives. (There is, however, no past history of ostriches being arrested for criminal negligence resulting in death and/or injury. They’re stupid creatures but not evil.)
“What happened to the animals is that, when the people of Tomioka evacuated in March, everybody opened the gates and the cages of the animals. They left their animals alone or returned them to nature, and especially the cattle and the pigs have become wild and they are currently living in the wilderness where they are growing”.
Matsumura goes to bed at around 6 PM, and gets up at the rising sun. He has no electricity in his house, and the temperatures go below freezing. When he wakes up, he listens to the silence that surround him. At least he can hear the sound of the living birds, dogs or cats, which are ill or depressed. He does not know if their pain is due to radiation. Only the cows that have gone wild seem to be flourishing and healthy: “They are gorgeous and fat. They eat a lot of grass,” Matsumura says.
In Tomioka, human time has stopped twice. Once when the tsunami hit, and a second time during the massive evacuation.
A photo reporter who went inside the red zone in April 2011 spoke about his impressions: “While looking at the sea, there was no other noise than the noise of the wind and the waves hitting the rocks”. “Inside the houses, which have become ruins after they were hit by the tsunami, dirt has been accumulating in the living rooms”. “There is a cynical contrast with the town streets, which remained clean despite the lack of care”. “We have to search very closely to discover that, behind those quiet houses, in the back side of the walls, a window has been broken.”
Robbers and thieves have made their ways into the zone. “The ATM in stores were also tempting and easy prey. There were no policemen in the zone. The ATM have been broken up with hammers and looted in order to steal radioactive money, which currently circulates somewhere in Japan.”
“Farms have become death camps. The cattle houses are full of dead animals in the stage of decomposition”.
To erase the smell of the mass graves, more time will be required. However, all the cows that escaped are not out of danger. On a farm, Matsumura saw a young cow that was suffering. She was not in good shape. A rope attached to its face was blocking its jaw. After seven months, the calf had become a cow. “The skull that was growing fast was trapped within the rope. The skin and the muscle were cut vividly by the furrow created by the rope. The animal could not drink, nor eat.”
The cow was trying to get rid of its rope with its foot leg but without success. When Matsumura approached the cow in order to cut the rope, the cow escaped. Like many cows before her, she was going to starve to death.
In this human desert, the air seems so pure, that one could forget the radioactive contamination that cannot be measured without a Geiger counter. Matsumura lives in his dangerous solitude like a king, and the forbidden zone is his kingdom. He treats the animals that live in there like his friends. He is a benevolent king.
When he sees a cat or a dog, he stops, he strokes them and offers them a share of pet food crackers. For him, the massively abandonment of the cattle to a long and painful death in their cages, in their barns, was a hideous crime. In spring 2011, he heard that the veterinary services of the Fukushima prefecture were going to launch a campaign to kill the surviving cattle and other animals. Metallic wire fences had been prepared all over the forbidden zone in order to trap them in order to inject disinfectant in their veins, not poison, which would cause them to die a painful death. Matsumura was angry: “This massacre made no sense at all. They are living beings. I want to tell the whole world that they are not only going to kill the cattle, all the animals in the forbidden zone will be killed in secret!” In May 2011, there were about 2000 living cows. Three moths ago, there were 400 of them. As for the cats and dogs, we are not really sure about the numbers anymore.
Matsumura spends his days feeding the animals. Every morning, he goes from houses to houses in order to feed the cats and dogs that stayed in town, then he goes to feed the his pigs and wild pigs.
Matsumura also used to own 32 beehives, but he has only 3 left. Radioactivity seems to have decimated his bees. One day in June, Matsumura made an unexpected encounter in Okuma, a neighborhood in Tomioka. He does not like to go there because the level of radiation is very high, one of the highest spots in the forbidden zone. In Okuma, the corpses have been abandoned because they were too radioactive to be given back to their families. In the middle of the street, there was an ostrich. She was the only survivor of the local farm, which used to keep thirty other ostriches. That ostrich is very popular among the policemen who started to patrol inside the forbidden zone around August 2011.
“They gave her a name: Boss”.
Matsumura tried to attract the bird with dog food and put a rope around her neck so that he could keep her with him to enjoy her company. But she escaped. “Boss” seemed in very good shape after seven months of freedom. The policemen wearing anti-radiation suits used to take photographs of themselves next to her. Matsumura spends his days without a Geiger counter. He does not calculate the doses of radioactivity he absorbs on a daily basis in the food, in the air and in the soil. The whole world had been touched by the dignity of the Japanese people during the successive disasters that hit the country. For Matsumura, when asked to speak on the subject of TEPCO, the operator of the power plant, he thinks they did not act with excessive moderation, but with apathy and indifference.
“The citizens of Fukushima protest very little. TEPCO took their houses, their land, the air and the water, and they accept it! No one was angry. Before the construction of the nuclear power plant, TEPCO said: ‘Problems will never occur, never’. Everyone has been cheated. I went myself to the headquarters of TEPCO in Tokyo to ask them for explanations. The only things that the leaders have been able to tell me is ‘sumimasen’ (we’re sorry). And the Japanese government has repeatedly announced during three months, that the radioactivity is not dangerous!”
Matsumura has been living without a Geiger counter, however recently, JAXA, the equivalent of the NASA in Japan has discretely given him a dosimeter.
JAXA has analyzed some sample of land and food taken from the zone. “Around Tomioka, the levels of radioactivity in the soil are superior to Chernobyl,” he was told. Matsumura likes the mushrooms in the forest. However he knows that those he took in the forest are highly contaminated. Despite his weariness, Matsumura is conscious of the risks he is taking. However, his sense of humor has not left him; it may outlast the radioactivity.
“There are good sides to this tragedy. The telephone is free, and I do not need to pay my electricity bills. Life has become cheaper.”
At some point, Matsumura has accepted to take a whole body counter check of the situation inside his body (internal exposure). The doctors exclaimed: “You are a champion of radiation!” Matsumura does not wish to comment any further on this subject. When he speaks about his family, he speaks very freely: ”My father is 80 years old, my grandmother lived until she was hundred years old, so I had the hope to live at least until I get to my eighties. With the radioactivity, I think I will live until my sixties, at best”.
“Tomioka, for me, is the most beautiful place in the world, there is the ocean, the mountains and the forest. Nothing will make me leave this soil, on which my family has been living on for five generations”.