The world watched in devastation as a powerful earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima prefecture in Japan on March 11, 2011, unaware of just how damaging the events would be and how greatly it would affect the people of that area. There are countless stories of destruction and loss, yet in spite of the tragic events, one man chose to stay behind and save animals from the aftermath.
On a trip to Fukushima this year, to see how survivors have been coping over the last two-and-a-half years, Reuters photographer Damir Šagolj came in contact with Keigo Sakamoto, a farmer and former caregiver for the mentally handicapped who refused to evacuate. Instead of escaping the contaminated zones, the man whose reputation is polarized between the titles of "lunatic" and "hero" has made it his mission to enter the surrounding ghost towns and rescue animals. Currently, Sakamoto lives with around 500 animals on his mountain ranch near Naraha. His "pets" include 21 dogs, of which only two are friendly to man.
Sakamoto's story, though, is a unique one seeing as 300,000 people evacuated. Šagolj explains: "Towns and villages were abandoned and lives broken. People were in shock. Only a few, Fumio Okubo among them, knew this was not something that would be over in a week or so." Okubo, a 102-year-old resident of Fukushima who committed suicide upon the Japanese government's issuance of a mandatory evacuation, is only one example of the many heart-rending stories that tackles bouts of helplessness and depression the photojournalist encountered on his journey. In the end, Sakamoto's story is a refreshing look at life under devastating circumstances.
For more, be sure to read Šagolj's full eye-opening account of present-day Fukushima over on Reuters Photographers Blog.