Immediately after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, all citizens were asked to leave. However, two men decided to stay to look after everyone’s pets.
When clouds of radiation began streaming into the air around the Fukushima nuclear plant, 160,000 residents were told to simply cut and run. Everyone complied, except for Naoto Matsumura and Sakae Kato, who would give up their own health than seeing their animal pals starve.
Living within the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the damaged reactor, the two men, unrelated to one another, both live alone while taking care of dozens of stray animals that were left behind when the evacuation order was given.
Reports from Reuters and DW state that 57-year-old Kato has 41 cats who live with him in his home in the mountains—along with a stray dog he adopted named Pochi. Kato says he will stay with his cats and ensure they are comfortable all through their lives. Kato’s generosity isn’t restricted to his own animals, and he has taken to feeding local wild boars, considered pests by the government.
Matsumura left the city at first but returned shortly after for his own animals. Once returned, the now 55-year old realised that everyone else’s pets and livestock were still there, so he began taking care of a broad community of animals including pigs, cats, dogs, ponies, ostriches, and cows.
When he first evacuated, some of his family outside of the exclusion zone told him he couldn’t stay with them due to the risk of contamination. The refugee camps outside the area were filling up fast, and Matsumura felt everything was too much of a hassle.
GNN reported in 2015 that he went back inside the exclusion zone and realised local pet dogs had not eaten in several days. After it became clear no-one was coming back to the neighbourhood, he went around unchaining dogs from trees, letting cows out of their barns, and feeding anything that needed it, earning him the moniker the ‘Guardian of Fukushima’s Animals’.
According to scientists from JAXA, the Japanese national space agency, Matsumura is also the most irradiated man in the country. Despite this, they’ve advised him it will likely be 30-40 years before radiation begins to wreck his biology, a timeline which will see him “likely dead by then.”
Until that day, he funds the feeding of the animals through local donations and keeps people up to date with news on his blog–posted by using solar power—though he lives without steady electricity or running water.
Everything both Kato and Matsumura are doing is technically illegal, and police have ordered them both to leave the area. Yet they seemingly couldn’t be less bothered by the government’s demands, and both plan to stay there with their animals come what may.