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Naoto Matsumura refused to leave when Tomioka was evacuated. He was born there, and except for a time in his 20s, has always lived in this small town. Now, it’s abandoned, but he remained, caring for animals that were left behind when the 3.11 triple disaster occurred. Among them were cats, dogs, cows, and two ostriches that have since died. He risks being exposed to radiation by living here but said he stays for the animals: “I can’t just throw their lives away.”

Matsumura, 58, wears a bright blue jumpsuit and smokes 30 cigarettes a day. His house is filled with bottles of whiskey and beer, packaged food, piles of paper and a collection of cranes from an anti-nuclear rally in France.

The Japanese government agreed to pay him compensation since he was staying in his home and taking care of the land. This quarter he is being paid 30,000 yen (around $300) per month. The payments will stop this year, but Matsumura said he doesn’t need much money, so it isn’t an issue. “Electricity is free. Water is free. Taxes are free. All I need is food,” he said as he dumped a bag of seed packages onto the floor. He has tried selling the vegetables he grows, but no one else will eat them.

Matsumura was irritated after the disaster. He wanted to stay in his home, and take care of the animals. But he’s been lonely. “At first I was irritated so much. Everything was finished suddenly. But it was also a big opportunity for my life. I started thinking about I can build a new life,” he said.


Photos and text by Parker Seibold

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