Fukushima was evacuated in 2011 after an earthquake and a tsunami caused a radioactive meltdown from its nuclear power plant.
Approximately 30,000 residents left the town, leaving behind their animals, including pets and livestock.
Matsumura, a farmer, had initially fled with his family, but because it was difficult finding adequate accommodations, he decided to return to Fukushima. It was upon his return when he realized the town’s animals had been abandoned and were in need of much-needed care. Animals had starved to death in their barns, or chained up without food or water.
“I had no choice but to stay,” Matsumura told Vice. “I couldn’t leave the animals behind. They needed to be fed.”
Matsumura lives mostly in the exclusion zone, but leaves occasionally to give talks about the suffering of his town, and is able to drum up support for the animals.
Matsumura is also a former construction worker, which came in handy for building and repairing shelters for the animals. Through the support of donations, he spends his day tending and feeding the animals of the land, including bulls, ostriches and kittens.
He says he isn’t afraid of the radiation, although he does purchase food that’s grown outside of Fukushima.
“They told me that I wouldn’t get sick for 30 or 40 years,” he said. “I’ll most likely be dead by then anyway, so I couldn’t care less.”
Despite the government’s warning him to leave the area, Matsumura has lived there for the past four years, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“The government is also attempting to have the cattle remaining in the contaminated area slaughtered,” Matsumura said, insisting that the animals are healthy and happy — thanks to him.
“To me animals and people are equal.”