fbpx Where Have All of Fukushima's Animal Rescuers Gone?

The abandoned animals of Fukushima was just one of the many disturbing stories to come from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. After Fukushima prefecture ordered evacuations following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, some 200,000 people fled their homes when the nuclear power plant’s reactor reached critical. Tragically, hundreds of pets and livestock were forgotten— trapped in cages, barns, and homes and left to starve to death. However, a few stubborn rice farmers, like Naoto Matsumura, refused to leave the exclusion zone and leave the animals to die.

Matsumura found many of the abandoned animals in his town of Tomioka dying or already dead, and made it his personal mission to save as many of them as he could. His story reached news outlets, and droves of donations for feed and medical care came pouring in from people all over the world from people wanting to support Matsumura, the animals, and his mission. Unfortunately, updates about Matsumura in western news have since ceased, and the Facebook running donations for him has seemingly taken up other efforts.

Naoto Matsumura nursing an abandoned calf.

Matsumura wasn’t the only farmer caring for the abandoned animals of Fukushima— men like Masami Yoshizawa in the town of Namie, and Keigo Sakamoto, who was practically living at ground zero of the Daiichi power plant also refused to leave. Yoshizawa opened the “Ranch of Hope” to care for the contaminated and abandoned cattle— determined to fight and shed a light on what he considered the corrupt Japanese Agriculture Ministry’s plot to downplay the effects of radiation on livestock.

Sakamoto turned his entire farm into a refuge for over 500 chickens, geese, goats, dogs, and other abandoned animals. The former egg farmer was just one of the few allowed to stay within the exclusion zone by the Japanese government. But like Naoto Matsumura, the current status of Masami Yoshizawa and Keigo Sakamoto is relatively unknown in English sources.

Yoshizawa protesting at the Ministry of Agriculture in Tokyo (Koji/Sasahara/AP).

While some farmers were given exception by the Japanese government, the same can not be said for actual animal rights activist. In the months after the evacuation, the government gave into pleas from animal rights groups to enter the zone and feed or rescue as many animals as they possibly could, but after disturbing footage from the attempts reached news outlets and aired on Japanese television, the government forced them out.

Activist began sneaking into the zone, and some even faced prosecution— such was the case of Hiroshi and Leo Hoshi (father and son), credited for the rescue of over 200 animals, who were arrested and detained in 2013 for entering the zone. While their story and the attempts of fellow activist to petition their release was shared in the Western world, their story was quickly forgotten.

The most famous of the hero farmers to reach Western audiences, Naoto Matsumura, is still living in Tomioka and caring for animals according to his personal blog. While there have not been any recent updates in English sources, he was interviewed by a Japanese pets website in March 2018. “I live here” says Matsumura, “I fight here. That’s my mission.” Back in 2013, when warned about radiation exposure from doctors and the government, Matsumura replied, “I’ll most likely be dead by then anyway, so I couldn’t care less.” It’s would seem that his defiant outlook has endured.

Naoto Matsumura feeding his rescued animals (Ruairidh Villar/Reuters).

Masami Yoshizawa and Keigo Sakamoto are also still living and fighting in Fukushima. Yoshizawa, who fought not only to save livestock, but also seek justice from the Japanese government, now runs a non-profit group that supports livestock and farmers affected by the nuclear accident. He ran for mayor of Namie in June 2018. The non-profit group supporting Sakamoto ended in 2015, but he is still living near Fukushima daiichi. His Twitter account is active and and donations for feed can be made using his Amazon wish list.

Keigo Sakamoto, holds Atom, one of his 21 dogs and over 500 animals (ODN).

When reached for comment on Facebook, Hiroshi Hoshi said that the petition to free him and his son Leo had failed to sway the Japanese government or the Fukushima police. They were sentenced for three years to a Fukushima prison, but were eventually exempted to four months. The unsympathetic police made examples of the Hoshi family to deter further activism.

The police not only refused bail for the Hoshi family, but enforced inhumane treatment while to two were in prison. “There was no stove even in winter” Hiroshi Hoshi said, “I was seated in the middle of the room and I could not use a blanket.” Since then, the elder Hoshi has not been involved with much animal activism, but their Facebook on animal welfare in Japan is still active. Hiroshi Hoshi has also stated his intentions to open the world’s largest animal shelter in Tokyo.

One of the many police checkpoints in Fukushima (Andreas Schoeps).

Matsumura, Yoshizawa, and Sakamoto, and animal activist like the Hoshi family, were examples of the best of humanity shining through during the darkest of times. Sadly, they were also examples of inept government and emotional journalism. Audiences will quickly consume a story and consider the matter finished before moving on to something else, but the damage from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, even years later, continues to be ongoing.


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