Wildflowers and other vegetation grow over a train line in Namie. Keigo Sakamoto, 58, holds Atom at his home in the exclusion zone near Naraha in Fukushima prefecture, on Sept. 17, 2013. Dense vegetation is seen from inside an abandoned house at the tsunami destroyed coastal area of the evacuated town of Namie September 15, 2013. Keigo Sakamoto holds Atom at his home in the exclusion zone near Naraha in Fukushima prefecture September 17, 2013. Street lamps light the street in the evacuated town of Namie in Fukushima prefecture September 23, 2013.

Broken Lives of Fukushima by Damir Sagolj


As he visited the area around Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear plant last month, photographer Damir Sagolj saw towns and villages that had been abandoned and met people whose lives had been irrevocably changed by the disaster of March 11, 2011. 

Inside the exclusion zone around the plant, Sagolj found a scene he likened to “a silent horror movie.” But amidst the carnage and the deserted houses he found one man who had defied the order to leave.

Keigo Sakamoto, a farmer and former caregiver for the mentally disabled, is considered a lunatic by some and a hero by others, Sagolj says. Sakamoto refused to evacuate, stayed inside the zone and made animals his mission. He ventured into empty towns and villages and collected a veritable Noah’s Ark of animals — dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, even marmots — abandoned by former owners when they left.

"There are no neighbours," says Sakamoto. "I’m the only one here but I’m here to stay." Of his 21 dogs, only two are friendly to man. One is called Atom, a super-cute white mutt, named because it was born just before the nuclear disaster struck.

Sakamoto lives with more than 500 animals in his mountain ranch near Naraha, in a scene Sagolj says is more reminiscent of experimental theater than modern Japan. With donations and support from outside Fukushima, he lives with his animals of which many were abandoned by previous owners as they left the exclusion zone. 

Read More  (Photos by Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

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