Editor's note: This is the 13th part of a new series that has run in the past under the title of The Prometheus Trap. This series deals with how pets and livestock fared in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The series will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
On March 21, 2012, a tranquil blue sky spread far and wide over Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture. However, it was in sharp contrast to the stormy mood of Yasuaki Tashiro, a livestock farmer in the town.
He was going to force himself to watch the killing of four of his cattle, which had been rounded up. Though it was not his duty to do so, he thought that he should be a witness to it.
The four bovine were brought to a playing field owned by Tashiro. Including those, about 20 head of cattle were surrounded by men in protective gear.
“They (the four) are my cattle,” Tashiro, 59, thought.
Although it was the first time in a year that he had seen them, he knew immediately that they were his. But he did not feel like approaching them and stroking their heads, as he used to. Therefore, he watched them being put down from a distance.
Veterinarians in protective gear anesthetized the cattle through blow darts. The cattle winced when hit, which suggested they felt pain. Then, they collapsed to their knees while uttering muffled cries. After that, muscle relaxant shots were quickly administered to them.
It took several minutes to put down one bovine. Without creating a stampede, the cattle were killed one after another. Every time a blow dart flew through the air and hit its target, Tashiro felt pain in his heart as if the projectile had struck his own chest.
Tashiro chose to bury his four cattle in his rice field, located several hundreds of meters away from his house. He did not want to bury them in a location that could be seen from his home. He offered incense sticks and flowers to the four, and apologized to them.
Tashiro previously hoped to revive the cattle industry in the Futaba area, including Tomioka town, which used to be the largest breeding area of wagyu (Japanese cattle) in the entire Tohoku region.
The number of calves that were put on auctions in the Futaba livestock market was decreasing. The number of buyers was also declining, as well as the average prices of winning bids.
“The Futaba livestock market will be closed in the future. If you sell your calves in different markets in Fukushima Prefecture, you can sell them at prices that are 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen (about $1,000 to $2,000) higher (than those at the Futaba market),” another livestock farmer told Tashiro.
A movement to leave the Futaba market spread among local livestock farmers, and Tashiro was asked to join the effort. However, he thought, “I am still young. A person like me must not forsake our local market.”
To help rebuild the local livestock industry, Tashiro started a young livestock farmers’ group, called “B-Eco Net,” in 2006. ("Beko" in Japanese means cattle.)
Around May every year, members of the group released nearly 30 head of pregnant cattle in deserted arable land in Tomioka town. They changed the location of the release every week for about seven to eight months.
As a result, the coats of the cattle became shinier, and it also became easier for the dairy cattle to deliver calves. In addition, the release of the cattle prevented the arable land from getting run-down. As a result, the group received an award from the Fukushima prefectural government.
Members of the group held a meeting a month before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011, triggering the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in the prefecture.
They discussed holding events, such as an exhibition of children’s drawings and an eating party of newly harvested rice, in the Futaba livestock market on the day of an auction. However, the plans were suspended due to the disaster.
In the realignment of the no-entry zone around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, conducted in late March this year, Tashiro’s lands were included in an area where residential use is limited. At the earliest, it will be another four years until he can return home.
“At that time, will my lands have returned to a state where I can raise cattle? Will I still have the mental toughness to work as a livestock farmer?” Tashiro is thinking about those issues while doing the decontamination job he started five months ago.
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The previous installments of this series are available at:
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