Too easily, we focus on the issues of the day, and put aside recent histories – even those whose horror lingers.
Animal welfare organization Network for Animals (NFA) recently visited Fukushima, Japan, where a 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered a nightmare nuclear disaster which killed 19,000 people and forced 200,000 to flee, immediately, the wide area around the power plant.
Tens of thousands have still not returned. And yet, some never left.
Heroic people who thought, too, about the animals’ plight. Like rice farmer Naoto Matsumura, who defied Japan’s law and stayed inside the 20km danger area to care for any and all the animals he could.
And 71-year old former schoolteacher Mieko Yoshida, who, eight years later, still defiantly treks into dangerously radioactive areas each day to feed the forgotten feline population. “She’s an angel,” says NFA campaigner, Paul Seigel. “What started as a desperate search for her own cats, has expanded into a mission, at immense personal risk, to care for all the cats in the surrounding areas.”
Large swathes of the Fukushima prefecture are still strict no-go zones, areas where mankind’s quest for mastery over science has wreaked dreadful consequences. Entry is allowed only under special permit, with protective radiation-resistant clothing and outer gear. But Yoshida will not abandon the 500 cats under her care.
She has even arranged a spaying and neutering program, and takes sickly cats back to her home in the village of Minamisōma to tend to them.
Driving beyond the city of Fukushima, we saw massive clean-up operations still under way: mountains of black bags holding contaminated earth, workers digging trenches, industrial equipment being utilized to clear debris. So far, £21bn ($25.6bn) has been spent on the cleanup, and the government is encouraging people to return to areas deemed safe. But many towns and villages are, still, places where no-one is home; trapped in time, other small, often isolated communities now struggle financially, and the colonies of disheveled, bedraggled or sickly cats are left to fend for themselves, roaming desolate streets in search of scraps.
Sure enough, around a corner we come across Yoshida again, setting out opened cans of food and topping up water at one of the feeding-stations she has established. “The cats couldn’t flee the radioactivity,” she says modestly. That’s the full extent of an explanation we get from her.
Next year, Tokyo hosts the Olympics, and the Japanese government is keen to focus the world’s attention away from Fukushima.