The Most Radioactive (And Lonely) Man In Japan

By Nolan Moore on Friday, April 11, 2014
178745511
“He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone.” —James Joyce, Dubliners, “A Painful Case”

In A Nutshell

After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, the citizens of Tomioka, Japan were ordered to evacuate. Today, the city is still a ghost town, totally uninhabited except for one man. His name is Naoto Matsumura, and he returned to Tomioka to take care of the town’s animals.

The Whole Bushel

Naoto Matsumura is a rice farmer living in Tomioka, Japan. In fact, he’s the only person living in Tomioka, Japan. The city is only 9.5 kilometers (6 mi) away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and after a devastating tsunami led to a nuclear meltdown in 2011, the government quickly evacuated the little town. Naoto cleared out with his parents, but then he started worrying about the animals he’d left behind. Unwilling to let his livestock starve, he jumped into his pickup truck and headed back to Tomioka, one of the most radioactive sites in Japan.

When the Fukushima Daiichi plant started spewing radiation, it leaked the equivalent of 168 Hiroshimas into the surrounding environment. While today the town sits outside of the “exclusion zone,” when Naoto went back in 2011, the city was a hotbed of radioactivity. In fact, anyone in Tomioka would expose themselves to 17 times the amount of radiation a normal person comes into contact with on a daily basis. Nevertheless, Naoto ignored the police barricades and drove inside. He was a man on a mission.

When Naoto first returned, he was shocked to see how many animals had been abandoned. The government had assured evacuees they’d come back in no time, so the frightened citizens left behind their dogs and cats. Now, the animals were hungry and thirsty, many of them trapped inside buildings or still tied up. Concerned, Naoto started driving through town, rescuing animals in distress and making sure all of them had enough food and water. Eventually, most of the pets wandered off into the woods, but Naoto still had his work cut out for him.

Quite a few people in Tomioka were farmers, and their livestock was dying in droves. In one grisly scene, Naoto found 120 dead cows inside a barn, all of which had died of starvation. Eventually, the government decided to wipe out all the animals for their own good. However, Naoto stepped up and said, “I will take care of them.” Since then, he’s built a corral out of pipes, with plenty of room for his 31 cows to move around. In addition to the bovines, Naoto is caring for two cats, one dog, one horse, four wild pigs, and even an ostrich. No doubt about it, Naoto is a busy man.

However, life is pretty tough for the animals’ champion. There’s no electricity in town so he cranks up generators at night and uses a solar panel to charge his computer and cell phone. Sustenance is also a major issue, and for a while, Naoto ate and drank contaminated food and water. Now that his cause has received media attention, he relies on relief supplies or occasionally makes trips to pick up goods and gas. Of course, the real concern is the radiation that permeates the town. While today Tomioka is relatively safe (though still largely abandoned), that wasn’t always the case. In fact, doctors told Naoto he has the highest level of radiation exposure in Japan. However, after they said he probably wouldn’t get sick for 30 or 40 more years, he stopped worrying about getting cancer and focused strictly on his animals. “I’ll most likely be dead by then anyway,” he mused, “so I couldn’t care less.”

Show Me The Proof

Huffington Post: Naoto Matsumura, Japanese Rice Farmer, Refuses To Leave Fukushima Nuclear Zone
Vice.com: Radioactive Man
South China Morning Post: Meet Japan’s most radioactive man and his animals
Vice.com: The Return of Radioactive Man