A Light In The Dark Empire: The Man Who Fought TEPCO.

Katsunobu Onda, investigative journalist and author of "TEPCO: The Darkness of the Empire" and "The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman"

Katsunobu Onda is a writer and investigative journalist who has been chronicling the corporate malfeasance in Japan’s nuclear industry for over two decades and his book  Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO): The Darkness of the Empire 「東京電力・帝国の暗黒」which was published in November of 2007 was the first book to dig deeply into TEPCO’S problems and sounded a warning that no one heeded. In some passages it almost eerily predicts the disaster that took place on March 11th, 2011. The book has recently been re-issued and his new book, The Last Will and Testament of A TEPCO Foreman published in February 2012, using first-hand accounts of the cover-ups, shoddy maintenance, labor abuse and corporate malfeasance at Japan’s largest energy provider, makes a strong case that TEPCO needs to be shut down or taken over by the government in order to prevent yet another tragedy.

First encounter with nuclear power plants

The first time Onda had the opportunity to visit a nuclear power plant in his career was 25 years ago at Fukushima Number One nuclear power plant. Onda says that inside the nuclear power plant, and the facilities itself, there are many people who do the daily maintenance work: “I decided to go and visit Fukushima Number 1 nuclear power station 25 years ago, because I heard stories about several people who died from exposure to radiation,” he said.

 

People who work in nuclear power stations

Most of the time, the people who work inside the nuclear power plant facilities tend to be local people whose main work is in farming or in the fishing industry. These are seasonal occupations, and quite often these people spend the off season going to other places in Japan, to do construction work as well. With the nuclear power plants, the people were able to do their off season work locally. Because they could commute from home, it was a rather attractive kind of job.

Speaking with these people, Onda learned that they all had almost no education with regards to the dangers of radioactivity: “Basically they were given a simple lecture. The lectures were short and ceremonial. They were given very simple background information and immediately after they would be standing at the reactors to work.” In Onda’s findings, most of the nuclear power plant maintenance workers had no understanding of radioactivity and the dangers of radiation. Radiation, of course, is also invisible. He also found out that there were no accurate records kept of how much radiation the workers have been exposed to. As a result, “each person had no idea of how much danger he or she was in by continuing to work at the plants” he said in a press conference in Tokyo.

 

Personal anger and sorrow

Onda says that the very first impression that he got when he started to cover nuclear power energy issues was that basically he could not forgive the way they functioned: “Nuclear power plants exist on the foundation of sacrificing organic life, whether you are a mammal, a beast or a plant.” “The negative effects of radiation is the same for all,” he said while he started to weep.

 

The power plant and the coming Great Tokai Earthquake

Onda started reporting on Chubu Electric Company, as a result, he wrote a book on the theme of “the power plant and the great Tokai earthquake.” He says he had similar impressions when he visited TEPCO, but in the case of the Chubu power plant, the reactors that he visited were stuck as a result of “undergoing inspections.” Therefore he was able to really get inside the reactor and view the facility from inside, and at that time, his impression was that, “not only there were no real understanding of a danger” or a deeper understanding of the possible replications of high radiation exposure, but he also thought from a technical point of view, that he had very great doubts with regard to the preparations in case a very big earthquake occurred.

Not only he discovered that there was a great danger for the people working inside the plant, but he felt at that time he did his research, that “if there were a real big accident, this would not only be disastrous and dangerous for the people working inside the power plant, but also for the people living around the plant.” And the accident could inevitably affect the people around the world as well.

 

A causal relationship between nuclear accidents and earthquakes

Onda has spent many years working as a reporter for a weekly news magazines and over time, when there were opportunities, he did more in depth reporting, for example when there was an accident at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in 2007 and also for the Fukushima accident last year as well. Onda says that he has tried to convey his concerns to the greater public to the best of his efforts.

“I feel very strongly that five years ago, after the accident at Kashiwazaki Kariwa, it was made very clear to everyone who was paying attention, that there is causal relationships between earthquakes and nuclear power plants accidents.” Yet, it seems that the lessons were not very well learnt after the disastrous situation at Fukushima.

At that time, Onda felt that he needed to bring that matter to the public and he brought together his book called TEPCO, The Darkness of The Empire.

 

A source within the nuclear power plant company

Over the years, he has written many articles in many magazines about the nuclear power plant issues. One person served as a strong foundation for his reporting. That was deceased Mr. Norio Hirai. Mr. Hirai was a foreman at a TEPCO power plant.

Onda says that in the past, it was very difficult for trying to get answers and honest opinions from people within the electric power plants and electric power companies themselves, therefore Mr. Norio Hirai was a very special person to him, because the man was the first person to be a whistle blower, “someone who brought the electric power plants problems to light from within the company.”

From Mr. Hirai, Onda has received very valuable information, such as the status of radiation exposure of the workers inside the plant. Mr. Hirai gave Onda more detailed information about life inside the plant, and told him about the “structural and technical problems with the plants,” and listening to him, Onda says he could understand the issues very well, because, himself has had the opportunity to view the installations from inside.

For years, the government, TEPCO, and other electric utility companies in Japan have insisted on the “safeness” of the nuclear power plant facilities to the public. Onda believes that the electric utility companies, the power generating industry itself, and the government are all one single unit, that’s why he refers to it as “the nuclear mafia.”

 

Money, the power of  “the nuclear mafia”

The root of the power of the nuclear mafia lies in the fact that they have money. Using the power of money, they were able basically to push upon the public this myth of safety and as a result, “they were able to convince the media, including myself that this myth was actually true.” The Japanese media also played an active part in perpetuating the deceptive activities of the nuclear industry: “They bare a tremendous responsibility for helping the government and the electric industry to perpetuate this myth.” Onda says. “When I look back on what has happened, I feel an enormous feeling of anger and regret, feeling powerlessness that I was not able to do anything more.”

 

Fight against the lobby of nuclear energy

Onda is now a freelance journalist and writer, he said that although he feels tremendous regret, he has not lost his fighting spirit at all, in fact he intends to work and report more regarding nuclear power plants. Now that he heard people like Mr. Naoto Matsumura (the Buddha of Fukushima) and his colleagues are trying to do something about this issue, Onda says it inspires him to keep on writing and investigating. He was the first journalist to really shine light into the darkness of the TEPCO empire; many hope that Mr. Onda will finally expose the dangers of Japan’s nuclear industry before all of Japan is exposed to the danger from their mistakes and corporate malfeasance.

The Buddha Of Fukushima 1-Year Later (Post 3/11)

Last year, we told you 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. 

This is how things are now.

Mr. Matsumura is holding a painted stone sent from supporters saying, "Thank you!"

“Nothing has improved inside the 20km zone.”

One year after the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster that hit northern Japan, the living conditions for most of the evacuees has not changed much, especially for the evacuees of the most dangerous zone defined by the Japanese government as being forbidden for people to stay in or live in. Naoto Matsumura, “the Buddha of Fukushima”, stayed in his farmhouse, in his town Tomioka, all this time. Although the people are not allowed there, the animals have been left behind, abandoned by the human beings.

(Naoto Matsumura、came to speak on February 28, 2012 at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan in Tokyo. This is what he had to say.)

 

Life in Temporary Housing Shelters

All the people who evacuated the town have been stuffed into very small quarters in these evacuation temporary housing shelters. Most of them have anything to do with their time waiting for the day the government will announce they can return to their homeland. The people in the temporary houses have a tremendous amount of stress, many people have developed illnesses over the past year. Many people have actually died. “The government is not taking action, in fact they don’t even think about us.” Matsumura says.

The victims ask themselves: “How many years will it be before we will be able to return?” It may be in fact many years before people might be able to return, if that is the case. Although the older people will be able to return, the younger people will not be willing to return in such deeply contaminated land.

 

Matsumura’s Dream 

If things remain as they are, Matsumura thinks that many years from now, Tomioka town will continue to be a ghost town. There are however many Japanese, who feel frustrated with this, who want to try to act where the government does not. Therefore some of Matsumura’s friends are trying to establish an NPO group, believing they might be successful if we are able to develop the NPO framework, and even to establish it. “Because many people will come together, we will be able to do things where we do not have to depend on the government.”

“Of course, my days are spent now trying to do everything I can to take care of the abandoned pets, and the animals that remain in Tomioka.” Matsumura adds. His fervent wish is that decontamination procedure progresses, and he hopes that someday people will be able to go back to Tomioka.

 

A great thanks to the supporters in the world

Matsumura took the time to express his thoughts to the people who have been writing post-cards and letters. Many supporters all over the world, from the USA, Australia, Italy, Russia, France, have sent their message of support to Naoto Matsumura. Because he lives inside the danger zone, the postal service have been delivering the important messages to the address of his evacuation shelter, which he visits once in a while also to charge his mobile phone: “I feel great gratitude for the people throughout the world who have a thought and willingness to cooperate and help. If their wishes are meant, I think that in the near future, this might change in a very big way.”

 

“I do not know how many years are left to me, maybe 10 years, or 20 years, but I hope very much to see my dreams realized while I am still alive.” Matsumura’s dream is to see his town restored to its former state. The government seems not to be of any great help, according to Matsumura, and the Japanese media has not really reported what is occurring in the areas in which he lives: “I am making an appeal to any media organization in the world, any audio-visual organization to report it as it is.” Matsumura believes that people throughout the world have much more information about what is happening in Tomioka and the cities around it, compared to the people in Japan. The progress is very slow and Matsumura and his friends from Tomioka do not have a great deal of power, but people like him, are willing, step by step, the realization of his dream.

All over the world support and donations have come in to support Matsumura-san in his protests against TEPCO and his efforts to take care of the remaining wild-life in the forbidden zone.

 

“The government and TEPCO are liars.”

TEPCO are at present shutting down their nuclear reactors, but many Japanese people know that their plan is to say that Japan is lacking electricity, or that Japan has electricity shortage problem. “TEPCO will say that they need to restart the Fukushima nuclear power plant as well,” Mastumura fears.

 

If this happens, even if soil and building decontamination proceeds, and even people will be able to return to these areas, they will face the same fear and terror of another accident occurring. In reality, they will not be able to return to their homes. “My desire is that TEPCO disappears from this earth. People working at TEPCO have no tears nor blood, they are not human!” Matsumura says.

 

In the past, TEPCO had many nuclear accidents but whenever these reports were presented on television, the ending phrase was always: “The amount of radiation leaked is not enough to adversely affect the human body.” Matsumura adds.

 

Japanese Media Over the Years

In Japan, because all the TV broadcasts always used to say that nuclear power plants are “absolutely safe”, “you can always have peace of mind, because we are taking all measures necessary,” Matsumura believes that as a result of all this publicity, TEPCO staff itself were brainwashed: “They feeling they are working in a very safe environment.”

Matsumura says he spoke to people who worked at TEPCO at the time of the accident, and heard a story form a man who was working outside the facility on March 11, 2011: “Suddenly, there was a broadcast urging to seek shelter inside immediately.” “The man told me that once they were inside the building, they heard this huge explosion outside, and what they thought at first is that they were under a missile attack.” In other words, it never even occurred to them that they were working in such a dangerous facility that this facility might ever produce an accident, they thought it was an outside reason.

 

“TEPCO’s Apology Manual”

In the continuous negotiation between TEPCO and the Japanese government, TEPCO always said it was the responsibility of the government and the government was responding the same arguments. In other words, many believe that nothing would change unless one of them collapses. And since the Japanese government cannot collapse, Matsumura believes that the natural solution is that TEPCO collapses: “But until TEPCO collapses, we will make no progress on the compensation and negotiations.”

 

When Matsumura went to meet TEPCO at their headquarters in Tokyo with his friends, he says they really lost temper, but the only thing TEPCO could answer was “sumimasen” and apologize. “They must have written a manual on how to apologize.”

 

Matsumura believes that there will be a court case in the end. As it is very well known, the court cases are very long in Japan, this one may take 20 or 30 years. The current victims will all be dead by then. This is always the way the government deals with difficult issues, according to some experts. If one looks back at history, when there were similar incidents, the Japanese government is finally resorted to fighting it on the court, and the court comes with a final decision so many years later that most of the people involved in the case, and most of the victims are already dead by the time it issues a decision.

Independent Commission on Nuclear Accident: Earthquake, TEPCO negligence, Myth of Safety Caused Meltdown

On March 1st, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, established in September 2011 by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, lead by Koichi Kitazawa, former president of Japan Science and Technology Agency, held a press conference on their recently issued report. The commission is a civilian project staffed by nuclear experts, investigative journalists, and experts in risk management.

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Committee press conference. Mr. Kitazawa (center) Mr. Funabashi (far left)

We have summarized the press conference and the report for our readers. During the press conference, the committee stated that there was solid evidence to suggest that the earthquake caused enough damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant to create the meltdown and that the tsunami was a secondary factor. This conclusion flies in the face of the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) claims that an unprecedented tidal wave was responsible for the disaster rather than the earthquake.

The committee found that there was not only a problem in the reactors of Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, but that the pools that store the spent fuel “were one of the biggest source of possible radioactive leakage.” The other main problem during the crisis management was the lack of information sharing and coordination inside the government offices, and also the failure of international communication with regard to the dumping of contaminated seawater into the ocean. The Japanese tatewari hierarchal systems of the Japanese government offices had been disclosed to the whole world.

“National Psychological Spiral”

This report did not only cover the direct or indirect causes of the accident, but also the socio-historical part of the cause.

The report pointed out that the situation in Japan with regard to nuclear power is very “poorly prepared to accidents.” A “psychological spiral” may have lead Japan into having arrogant self-confidence in nuclear energy. “All the people who worked or still work in the nuclear industry” felt that “there was something wrong in what they were doing”, but failed to report it.

As a scientist, Mr. Koichi Kitazawa, the chairman of the panel and Former President of Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), feels that the nuclear power reactors in Japan are “too crowded” on the same site. Because of this “crowded distribution of radioactivity sources”, the accident developed in the way that “each of the radioactive sources interacted with each other” and therefore amplified the scale of the accident.

The report also pointed out that, the people who knew about the meltdown knew that “the most dangerous part of the plant was not just the reactors, but also the pools where the spent fuel is stored”. “The spent fuel pools were one of the biggest source of possible radioactive leak”, but this time “fortunately” the leak from these pools could be avoided in time. However, this “luck” cannot be guaranteed in the future.

TEPCO Requested Retreat from the Accident Site

During the most critical times of the accident, between March 14th and 16th, TEPCO had requested former PM Naoto Kan’s office to pull out the group of workers operating on the Fukushima Daiichi power station accident site. The president of TEPCO called the people who were closely working with the PM asking them to convince the PM to let them evacuate their employees. But PM Naoto Kan and his advisors did not permit TEPCO to retreat. In total, about 600 people retreated from the accident site, but the so-called Fukushima Fifty were left behind to work inside the nuclear power station to avoid the accident to go out of control.

According to the investigation of this panel commission, perhaps the greatest achievements of Mister Kan could be that he “was able to prevent TEPCO to retreat entirely from the Daiichi site.” In other words, while Prime Minister Naoto Kan was a hot-headed jerk, his decisiveness and ability to threaten and intimidate TEPCO into not abandoning ship,  like a bunch of rats, was decisive in preventing an even greater nuclear disaster.

However, the excessive involvement of the PM’s office to the crisis management was “more than necessary” and turned out to be “not really effective.” The reason for this involvement was because “the presence of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency of Japan and the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan was so dilute and insufficient”. The PM’s office was not able to gather enough information from these organizations and “gradually became suspicious about the efficiency” of the bureaucrats and those involved in the accident management. This has led the PM to go directly to the accident site.

The report concludes that the reason why the accident was on an epic scale was because of the “lack of a sense of responsibility and professional negligence on safety issues of TEPCO and of the government.”

The world is supposed to have accumulated much improvement in terms of security issues in nuclear power plants after the accidents of Three Miles Island and Chernobyl. However Japan has not been able to use the world’s experience in nuclear disaster. Ambassador Tetsuya Endo, member of the committee and former chairman of the Board of Governors said that the main problem in Japan is the lack of the information sharing during the crisis management and the “arrogant” self confidence of the Japanese nuclear energy industry accumulated since the 1960’s which led Japan “not to pay enough attention from the recommendations coming from abroad, including from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

“Negligence in the last 20 years has led Japan to become a place not safe enough for using nuclear energy.”

 The reasons why Japan did not accept the recommendation from the other countries about the safety issue, according to the investigation, is believed to be the “self trapped situation” of the people related to regulation from which a nuclear power generation trapped in the so-called “miss in absolute safety.” This is why the safety issue did not reach a higher level in Japan.

In other words, the words “improvement in safety issues” has even become almost “taboo” in the manufacturing companies of nuclear power plant and for electric power companies. In their logic, believing that nuclear energy is “100% safe”, there was no room for “improvement.”

Preparedness to a Nuclear Accident for Nuclear Power Generation

As for the people related to the regulatory side or the promotion of nuclear energy, according to the interviews conducted by the investigation crew, have expressed that they have felt that there was “some problems,” but felt that if each of them started to speak out something different from what they were promoting, the nuclear power would not get support from the general public.

According to Mr. Kitazawa, each one of whom they have questioned said they “regretted what they have been doing” without sufficient knowledge, which raises the legal part of the issue of responsibility. The belief in the absolute safety of nuclear energy turned out not to be true, but those who were promoting it believed that this energy was 100% safe. And so these people ended up believing that improvement was “not necessary and unreasonable,” according to the findings of the report.

Information Mismanagement

The report found that the management of information was a failure as well. “Japan was not ready at all to manage a nuclear crisis starting from the accident site to the PM’s office.” How to gather and transmit information in the crisis management turned out the support from the people, and unfortunately during the management of the accident the Japanese government failed to grasp support or reliability of the people on the government.

The Power of Twitter and Bloggers

Mr. Funabashi, another member of the committee, and former reporter at Asahi Newspaper, said that indeed, the Japanese media should have challenged the Japanese government officials more critically. The System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) designed to provide precautionary measure to those who are supposed to evacuate was not made public, and the first to be reporting on the issue were the foreign media, which gradually the people at the PM’s office be informed on the issue. For example, active tweetters and bloggers questioning the SPEEDI and its effectiveness, such as Professor Hayano Ryugo at Tokyo University, started to mention SPEEDI on internet around March 15th. This professor had many followers and one of the first to follow him was a member of the PM’s office. Yet the official explanation given about this story was that “given the uncertainty of the source’s terms the system cannot be utilized,” and it was recommended to the politicians that the system should not be activated. Even though they had invested much money on this system in the past years, they decided not to use it. With so many stories like this one, the Japanese media should have investigated more. And in the most critical moment of the history of the accident, Mr. Funabashi believes that the Japanese media did not serve the general public and that the long established Japanese “Press Club System” is hurting Japanese journalism “to do a rightful and useful job.” For example, the reporters who were already aware of the SPEEDI on March 14th and 16th, have asked many questions to the ministers and the deputy ministers, but no serious report came out on these days in the major Japanese media. “So the press club system did not help communication at all, in this case.”

Although the PM’s office and those who worked on the accident site have worked their best to improve the situation, the report concludes that “most of the effort was not efficient.” Mr. Koichi Kitazawa insists on the fact that “luckily”, the situation did not get worse than what happened, “not too much radioactivity was leaked,” but this “luck” cannot be guaranteed in the future.

The Spectre of Nuclear Terrorism

Ambassador Endo also spoke of a great risk of terrorist attacks taken by TEPCO over the years. According to him, “terrorists could have achieved their intention, as TEPCO hired its employees without keeping track of where they come from and their competence in working in the sector.”

Some of the so-called Fukushima Fifty are still unknown, because TEPCO failed to trace who they are, he noted. (Editor’s note: Suzuki Tomohiko, author of Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry, has asserted that some of them were actually local gangsters. Considering TEPCO’s long history of cozy relations and/or tacit approval of organized crime related firms, this is probably not surprising.)

Did the meltdown occur before or after the Tsunami hit?”

The chairman of the committee said that “there had already been a fatal accident, and a failure of the system had taken place before the tsunami arrived.” The report contains an interview with a person who stayed inside the nuclear power plant. The person interviewed talks about what he and his colleagues saw before the tsunami hit. “According to this person, they saw some steam coming out from inside the reactor and they had special word for the vapors,  namajoki (生蒸気) in Japanese, which is raw steam. They suspected at the time that it was the steam coming from some pipeline between the reactor and the turbines.”

However, in order to tell if there was an accident occurring before the tsunami hit, the workers would have had to go inside the reactor in order to find out what was really happening in there. “At that moment, the radiation level was too high and they could not check what is really happening inside the reactor.” Therefore, the committee “could not finalize the conclusion.”

Jake Adelstein also contributed to this article. 

The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld coming in 2015

Jake Adelstein’s 2nd book, a narrative non-fiction history of  post-war Japanese organized crime, The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese World  is due to be published in 2014.  The book by focussing on several former yakuza bosses and their associates, including the cops who arrested them, will follow the rise of the yakuza, their movement into the financial world, and the gradual disintegration of the professed code that let them be tolerated in Japanese society.

Publisher’s Weekly had the story before it was officially announced. The Atlantic Wire also kindly gave the announcement of the book deal a write-up yesterday.

Agent William Clark, at William Clark Associates, just closed two notable deals. In the first, he sold U.S. and Canadian rights to Jake Adelstein’s nonfiction book The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underworld to Tim O’Connell at Pantheon. (Adelstein’s first book, 2010’s Tokyo Vice, is also with Pantheon.) The author is a journalist who grew up in the Midwest before moving to Japan, where he began covering crime for a Japanese paper. The first American to work that beat, Adelstein, who was recently profiled in the New Yorker, has emerged as one of the foremost authorities on organized crime in Japan. The new book, about a former gang boss, is, as Clark explained, “a singular, in-depth, occasionally funny, often dark, but nonetheless inspiring, tale.” A U.K. auction for the book was in progress at press time. (July 2nd, 2012) 

 

From The Atlantic Wire. 

Some in-house book news: Atlantic Wire contributor Jake Adelstein has a deal for his book The Last Yakuza: A Life in the Japanese Underground. Adelstein, an expert on organized crime in Japan, worked as the crime reporter for Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, the first American to hold that position. He was profiled in The New Yorker earlier this year. The Last Yakuzaaccording to Publisher’s Weekly, is about a “former gang boss.” Adelstein previously published Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, a memoir. [Publisher’s Weekly]

 

The Buddha of Fukushima's Forbidden Zone: A Photo Essay

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.

Last stop.

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 (福島原発第一) 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”.

 

 

“I have seen animals dying, from diseases or for example, from being tied to ropes”. “When the cattle are still young, we put a rope around their faces. I saw some cows bleeding to death, because, tied to their rope, they grew bigger”.

 

 

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.

Six cows were born since March. They looked “normal”.

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”.

“The worms and the crows are cleaning the big parts”.

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.

Some gates have never been opened.

 

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.

Mr. Matsumura found two dogs caught in wild pig traps in the mountains. He set them free but couldn't save their legs.

 

Mr. Matsumura thinks the dog got caught in the wild boar trap while going on a stroll where he used to go with his master. The right paw was lost.

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”.

Update:

Dear readers and supporters of Mr. Matsumura,

If you live in Japan and if you wish to support Mr. Naoto Matsumura in his struggle to keep the animals alive, please feel free to use his Japanese Bank account. With Japan Subculture we will soon fix a pay pal system to collect donations from abroad. Mr. Naoto Matsumura is currently fighting to either convince the Japanese government not to kill these pet animals, or at least to keep the internal organs and to provide them to international scientific labs or universities in order to study them and collect useful data.

This is Mr. Naoto Matsumura’s private bank account:

東邦銀行 安積支店 普通 NO636789 松村直登
Toho Ginko (bank), Asaka Shiten (branch), No 636789 , Matsumura Naoto

Mr. Naoto Matsumura takes care of his friend. *All photos were provided courtesy of Naoto Matsumura.