The town of Tomioka (population 16,000) is well within the designated danger zone and was evacuated on March 12. To this day it remains a ghost town, save for one man: Naoto Matsumura, a fifth generation rice farmer in his early 50s.
On March 11, 2011 an earthquake and tsunami resulted in multiple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The surrounding 20 km (12 mile) radius around the plant was evacuated. The Japanese government later urged those living within 30 km (18 miles) to also evacuate.
Matsumura initially left Tomioka along with his parents and the other townsfolk, but he soon defied government orders and returned to tend to the animals that were still on his family’s farm. In fact, countless animals were abandoned by the mass exodus. Since they left so suddenly, residents did not have time to make arrangements for pets and livestock, thinking they would return to their homes in a few days. Dogs were left tied up in yards, cattle locked up in barns. Naoto noticed these animals and did his best to care for them. He continues to look after many cats, dogs, cows and pigs as well as a couple of ostriches.
Because he is being bombarded with as much as 17 times the amount of radiation a normal person is, and because for a while he was eating meat, vegetables, and fish that were contaminated by radiation, as well, some researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency wanted to run some tests on him. “When I went down and let them look me over, they told me I was the ‘champion,’” he said, meaning he had the highest level of radiation exposure in Japan. “But 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.”
They did tell Naoto not to eat any more locally produced food, so now he drinks spring water that has been checked for contamination and eats relief supplies delivered from the outside. But otherwise, his day-to-day life is mostly unaffected by the invisible, but harmful, particles and waves floating all around him.
A new short film by VICE Media documents Naoto Matsumura’s extraordinary life in Fukushima’s exclusion zone; living alone and caring for the animals. He even found a dog that had been locked inside a barn for a one and a half years, somehow surviving by eating the rotting meat of cattle that had starved to death. Naoto nursed him back to health.
With the initial media exposure that Fukushima’s “radioactive man” received and now the added attention by the VICE film, Naoto has become a bit of an international cause celebrity, with an English fundraising blog and Facebook page set up in his name.