The Unsurpassed Wisdom of Enlightenment and the Right to Life of Cattle

Reports from Inside the 20 KM Radius of the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima#1 Nuclear Facility

text & photos by
Takumi Sakamoto

Cattle also Have the Right to Life

May the Cattle of Oba and the Myriad Spirits Attain the Unsurpassed Wisdom of Enlightenment

10 kilometers from the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima#1 Nuclear Facility lies the neighborhood of Tajiri in the town of Namie-machiand the farm of Ms. Shoko Oba, age 70. On one of the pillars in her cattle barn is posted a Japanese Buddhist mortuary tablet (toba). At the beginning of April, 2011, Ms. Oba began cleaning up by herself the corpses of 30 head of Japanese cattle that had been left tethered to their posts and eventually starved to death after she evacuated suddenly in the wake of the nuclear accident. By this time, they had become mummified and the bones of their extremities and torsos lay scattered. Their hides were stuck to the floor of the barn, and she had to use a pickaxe to clean out their bodies. She remarks, “I ask for their forgiveness. Because I bought them and brought them here, they had to experience this. They died in such a brutal way. If only the nuclear reactor hadn’t …” as her voice trails off. It took 3 months to gradually scrape up the hides and collect all the bones and then bury them on the hill behind the farm.

I visited Ms. Oba’s cattle farm at the end of April, and the stench of the corpses still permeated the area. The radioactive level on the farm was a daily dose of 8 micro-sieverts. On March 12th, right after the first explosion at the reactors, Ms. Oba fled toTsushimalocated roughly 20 kilometers away. Later it was confirmed that this was a high radioactivity zone. She says, “I didn’t mean to abandon them. I thought I’d be back in two or three days. Every day I worried about them and couldn’t sleep.”

As the area within 20 kilometers from the #1 nuclear facility had become a police zone that was forbidden to enter, she would leave the evacuation area and enter her farm before dawn to feed them. She persevered in this even saying to the police who stopped her for inspection, “You all must drink and eat. You are in the same situation as the cattle.”

10 years ago, she started raising the cattle by herself. Her husband, Nobuo, age 73, has continually been in and out of the hospital with various ailments. Everyday, as soon as it got light, she would have work waiting for her and had no free time to even deal with her own dental problems. Dr. Akira Iwakura, a veterinarian who knows Ms. Oba’s hard working personality, recounts, “It’s due to her personality. Normally, someone would give up after a while.”

Of Ms. Oba’s 30 head of cattle that didn’t starve to death from being tethered up, some are still surviving as “runaways”. The government has indicated that on May 12th it will begin to put down such cattle and livestock within the 20 km restricted zone after getting approval from their owners. Ms. Oba is not planning to give approval to putting her cattle down. She says, “It was from the financial support of the cattle that I could pay for my husband’s hospitalization. The cattle have a right to life as well, until the end, and then I will give them a proper burial.”

The Meaning of Death Has Become Different

According to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) Livestock Division, out of 3,500 cattle that lived in the 20 kilometer area from the nuclear facility before the occurrence of the East Japan Earthquake, half of them starved to death and 800 of them were killed. As of today, about 1,000 cattle have become wild, while others live within fences. On April 5th, the MAFF and the nuclear emergency response headquarters announced an “order for handling livestock after the creation of new evacuation areas”. According to it, “free-range livestock will be by principle euthanized with consent of the owner”. Also, “owners who wish to keep their livestock within commutable areas must meet the following conditions: 1) exporting, transporting, or breeding of the livestock including their descendants will be restricted; 2) the individual identification of their livestock will be required; ③ the livestock should be kept in isolation; and 3) the owners will be responsible for radiation dose control of their livestock.

In the end of April, I went to the place where cattle had been euthanized in Namie-machi and Okuma-cho. There was a fence made with iron pipes at a height of 1.5 meters surrounding an area where free cattle were likely to gather. Salt had been piled inside to lure the cattle. In one of the corners, there was a passageway wide enough for just one cow to walk through. At the end of the passageway, they were injected, one by one, with muscle relaxant to be euthanized. When I looked closely at this passageway, I noticed the hoof prints on the ground. I was told the cattle proceeded very quietly, as they were guided through.

Mr. Yukio Yamamoto, age 69, is a dairy farmer who does not agree with the killing of livestock. He was there one day at the euthanasia site and explained that his heart ached when he saw a calf feeding on the mother cow as they were both getting killed. He said, “If the world knew about this,Japanwill really be criticized”.  Another dairy farmer in the Minami-Soma district says that he cannot forget the dull and heavy groans of the cattle when they could not get the muscle relaxant shots properly. Mr. Yamamoto still questions himself for releasing 30 of his cattle after the nuclear accident. “It is certain that before the incident the cattle would have ended their lives as food for humans. However, the meaning of their death now is different since they were starved to death or brutally euthanized.”

Seeing A World of Pandemonium

I started collecting data within the 20 kilometer radius from the nuclear plant from April 16th, 2011. It all started by an encounter with a dairy farmer in Minami-Soma city. I cannot forget the horrible sight and the furious cries I heard at the cow barn in the Odaka district. When I went close to the cow barn, the cows began to squeal in unison. It was similar to the sound of people wailing, but they were starving for food. I cannot forget what I saw inside as I froze, going pale, feeling their heavy bass cries in madness. About 60 cattle were already dead, looking as if their heads had been put to a guillotine. Their eyes were caved in from dehydration; some looked up towards the sky, while the tongues sagged out of the mouths of others, struggling furiously to free themselves from their pens. “No way…” I doubted my eyes. Their necks were locked mercilessly, disabling them from moving freely at all. There was too much of a contrast between the pale pink cherry blossoms in bloom and this world of pandemonium. When an expert heard my recordings of the cattle groaning, he said, “It’s not just that they were starving for food and water. They are expressing together their deep sadness of losing all hope for freedom as well as extreme anxiety. It seems there are seriously crying out, “Please don’t abandon us”.

What Exists Behind the Starvation of Cattle

On July 17, about three months later, behind an altar for the victims of the tsunami on the Ukedo coastline of Namie-machi, I found a wooden board in which was written:

Sorry that we cannot bring everyone back to their families.

We will never allow your lives to go to waste!!

We will revive Namie-machi, someday.

-April 21

Ukedo was hit by the tsunami around 3:30 p.m. There were people seeking for help while trapped under the rubble. Others were seen finding shelter between the concrete tetrapods. However, they had to be left behind, because everyone was ordered to evacuate from the area when the pressure in the nuclear reactor containment increased.  The “restricted area” sign was the final blow. The date, April 21, was the day before the area was made off limits. When I heard this, I found out that this was the same situation with the cattle that were left behind in their cow barns.

Resistance to the Concealment of Facts

On February 11, 2012, about 10 months after I visited first, I went to the farm where nearly 60 cattle had died while being penned up side by side. Their dead bodies had been removed, leaving the place looking like a dreary cemetery. The government is restricting reporters within the 20 km hazard area, while they continue killing cattle and allowing local construction companies to clean up and bury their dead bodies. The dead bodies of the cattle in the cow barn had been cleaned up, giving the impression to people who visit that “nothing happened here”. The remaining cattle are witnesses, and the actions of dairy farmers, such as Ms. Oba and Mr. Yamamoto who do not agree with killing their cattle, are in a way a form of resistance to the concealment of facts.

What Can Be Learned from the Life and Death of Cattle

On April 22, 2012, one year after the 20 kilometer radius from the nuclear plant became a restricted area, a memorial service for the animal victims took place at Ganoku-ji, a Soto Zen Buddhist temple. The abbot, Rev. Zen-e Hoshimi, age 75, told me that there used to be a tree enshrined as a memorial stupa for dead animals at the forked junction nearby the temple during the 1950s and 60s. There were Buddhist writings on each branch expressing that there is Buddha nature in all living things. That was how much the locals felt close to other creatures.

Facing the facts about cattle starving to death in their pens or being euthanized is painful. If we do not look into why such a thing has happened, we humans, who are interconnected with all other living things, will eventually follow the same fate as the cattle due to the invisible threat of radioactive contamination. Not only do we need to look into the facts of the nuclear accident and take action by pursuing the liability of those responsible, but we also need to think about the future of our society that includes not only human beings but animals and plant life as well. It seems to me that the life and death of cattle in the restricted area is teaching us something.

Translated by Ryu Yabana and Jonathan Watts (International Buddhist Exchange Center, Yokohama)

Takumi Sakamoto is a free journalist born on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido in 1971. He graduated from the Department of Applied Science at the Muroran Institute of Technology in 1999. While working at a small factory in Kyoto, he spent time as a trade journalist. From April 2011, he became a free journalist, co-authoring The Book of Religious Practice (shugyo-no-hon)published by Gakken Publishing. His “Records and Recollections of Dairy Farming in Fukushima” is now in serialization in the “Life” section of the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper.


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