Naoto Matsumura, 54, (pictured) is the only resident of Tomioka, a ghost a town situated within the polluted ‘restricted zone’ that surrounds the Japanese nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi, which went into meltdown after it was devastated by an earthquake and an ensuing tsunami on March 11th 2011. Italian photographer Antonio Pagnotta caught up with Matsumura when he ventured into the exclusion zone to produce a series of chilling reportages on the aftermath of the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster since that of Chernobyl in 1986. His stunning reports begin here, with a portrait of the daily life of the sole guardian of Tomioka, once home to nearly 16,000 people.
Devastated by an earthquake and ensuing tsunami that flattened part of the north-east Japanese coastline on March 11th 2011, the Japanese nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi went into meltdown, causing high-level nuclear contamination of a vast surrounding area and the forced evacuation of hundreds of thousands of local inhabitants.
The most contaminated zone, set in a 20-kilometre radius encircling the plant, remains an official restricted area, in which only temporary access is allowed, mainly for the dangerous and laborious clean-up work.
Beginning in April 2011, just weeks after the catastrophe began, Italian photographer Antonio Pagnotta clandestinely ventured into the exclusion zone (see a map detail here) for a series of photo-reportages which he completed in March this year. His brave work provides a rare and chilling vision of the effects of the cataclysm, the worst civil nuclear disaster since that of Chernobyl in 1986.
Mediapart is publishing a selection of his stunning pictures, brought together in a series of themes, beginning here with a report on a farmer, Naoto Matsumura, who continues to tend his land at Tomioka, once home to nearly 16,000 people, now a ghost a town inside the restricted area, where he is the only resident, living without running water or electricity.
In March 2011, Matsumura was among the thousands who fled the zone as it was swept by a nuclear cloud, but he soon returned to tend the land, abandoned animals and even a local cemetery. He sees it as his duty to keep life and presence in defiance of the devastation.
According to official Japanese figures released in February this year, the events of March 2011 left 15,800 people dead, another 6,000 injured and more than 3,200 people missing. A total of 343,000 people were evacuated from the area around Fukushima and still living in temporary accommodation.
June 4th 2011. Naoto Matsumura, 54, the last person left in Tomioka.
June 4th 2011. Entire herds of cows were unable to escape from their tiny enclosures and suffered a slow death. The cattle sheds have become mass graves full of rotting corpses where crows take their pickings.
June 9th 2011. Before the catastrophe there were 3,400 cows, 31,500 pigs and 630,000 chickens in Fukushima prefecture, according to the Japanese agriculture ministry.
June 4th 2011. Naoto Matsumura in one of the cattle sheds: "Leaving hundreds of animals to die a slow death is a crime," he says.
June 4th 2011. In front of a radioactive rubbish dump: according to Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission, an adult in Tomioka from March 12th to April 24th 2011 would have been exposed to 10 to 50 millisieverts (mSv). The maximum exposure allowed in France for the general population is 1 mSv per year.
June 4th 2011. Matsumura ministers to his bees: "I had 30 hives before but since the nuclear accident I only have two left and the bees produce little honey," he explains.
June 4th 2011. Matsumura feeding his boars and pigs, which now cohabit with a group of cats. He goes from house to house every morning to feed cats and dogs that are either too wild to be caught or too aggressive to be taken to animal sanctuaries.
July 10th 2011. At the town’s cemetery: Matsumura maintains the graves.
June 4th 2011. Looking out over a peaceable Pacific Ocean. On the day of the tsunami, waves here were over 10 metres high, triggered by an earthquake on the island of Honshu, off Japan’s north-east coast, which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale with a maximum of 10. The epicentre was 130 km east of Sendai, a town some 300 km north-east of the Tokyo conurbation.
November 2nd 2011. The tsunami destroyed this house belonging to one of Matsumura’s friends.
November 2nd 2011. Inside a friend’s house, Matsumura holds an aerial view photograph of the Tomioka sea front before the tsunami wrecked it.
November 2nd 2011. Despite everything, Matsumura has kept a sense of humour. Here he stands on a platform at Tmioka station, the rails invaded by weeds, where he pretends to hail the attention of a train. None will likely ever arrive before many, many years ahead.
November 2nd 2011. More dark humour from Matsumura at the abandoned Tomioka golf course, where he acts out a party on the green.
November 2nd 2011. On the golf course, the Geiger counter, at 1.5 metres above the ground, indicates 5 microsieverts per hour.
November 2nd 2011. This abandoned farm greenhouse serves as a refuge at night for cows.
October 29th 2011. ‘Boss’ is the only surviver of the Okumacho ostrich farm. Matsumura feeds the bird with animal feed.
November 2nd 2011. Surviving cows in the countryside surrounding Tomioka. Next spring, the Fukushima veterinary services are due to begin a cull of all the surviving animals in the restricted zone. Matsumura has vowed to fight any such move. Here he takes photos of the cows, which he then makes available to the media.
November 2nd 2011. Large spiders have invaded what was once a chicken battery pen, covering all around with webs.
November 2nd 2011. Like many Japanese, Matsumura is a keen mushroom eater. Now, however, he limits his gourmet taste to breathing in the odour. A friend of Matsumura’s, a scientific researcher with the Japanese space laboratory, analysed specimens from the area and found they contained between 3,000 and 400,000 becquerels per kilo, according to the variety.
November 2nd. A lone man’s best friend: Matsumura enjoys an autumn stroll with his dog Aki in the forest beside Tomioka.
February 9th 2012. Dinner for one: Naoto Matsumura has spent 11 months living on his own in the evacuated zone. Tonight, he tucks into a tin of tuna fish by candlelight.
- Antonio Pagnotta, 55, is based in Italy. He frequently visits Japan, where he has worked as a photographer for more than two decades, covering a wide variety of stories, including the Aum Shinrikyo sect’s nerve gas attack on the Tokyo underground, and is renowned for his coverage of issues of nuclear safety in the country. He has also produced a series of major feature reports in his native Italy, where his work has been showcased in several exhibitions, including a 17-year reportage of the reconstruction of Basilicata, a quake-destroyed village in the south of the country. A freelance contributor to the Cosmos photo agency in Paris, his portfolio page can be found here.
English version: Sue Landau and Graham Tearse