Photos: The man who takes care of cats forgotten in Fukushima's nuclear zone

  • A decade ago, former small construction business owner Sakae Kato, 57, stayed behind in a restricted zone in Namie, Fukushima to rescue cats abandoned by neighbours who fled the radiation clouds belching from the nearby nuclear plant. He lives in a two-storey wooden structure, peppered with holes where wall panels and roof tiles that kept the rain out were dislodged by a powerful earth tremor last month, stirring frightening memories of the devastating quake on March 11, 2011, that led to a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown. The cats also gave him a reason to stay on land that has been owned by his family for three generations. So far he has buried 23 cats in his garden, the most recent graves disturbed by wild boars that roam the depopulated community.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST 8 Photos
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An aerial view shows Sakae Kato walking Pochi, his dog that he rescued four years ago, on an empty road between restricted zones in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on February 20. A decade ago, Kato stayed behind to rescue cats abandoned by neighbours who fled the radiation clouds belching from the nearby Fukushima nuclear plant.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

An aerial view shows Sakae Kato walking Pochi, his dog that he rescued four years ago, on an empty road between restricted zones in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on February 20. A decade ago, Kato stayed behind to rescue cats abandoned by neighbours who fled the radiation clouds belching from the nearby Fukushima nuclear plant.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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Sakae Kato holds Mokkun, a rescued cat, while an animal rescue activist applies an ointment onto its mouth at Kato's home on February 21. "I want to make sure I am here to take care of the last one," he told Reuters from his home in the contaminated quarantine zone. "After that I want to die, whether that be a day or hour later."(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Sakae Kato holds Mokkun, a rescued cat, while an animal rescue activist applies an ointment onto its mouth at Kato's home on February 21. "I want to make sure I am here to take care of the last one," he told Reuters from his home in the contaminated quarantine zone. "After that I want to die, whether that be a day or hour later."(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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A bullock skull sits on top of a cross on a wall that bears a nuclear symbol, at the cattle farm Ranch of Hope, in Namie on February 22. So far Kato has buried 23 cats in his garden, the most recent graves disturbed by wild boars that roam the depopulated community. He is looking after 41 others in his home and another empty building on his property, Reuters reported.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

A bullock skull sits on top of a cross on a wall that bears a nuclear symbol, at the cattle farm Ranch of Hope, in Namie on February 22. So far Kato has buried 23 cats in his garden, the most recent graves disturbed by wild boars that roam the depopulated community. He is looking after 41 others in his home and another empty building on his property, Reuters reported.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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An animal rescue activist holds a bowl of bait that is used to trap and rescue abandoned feral cats, in a restricted zone in Namie, on February 21. Kato leaves food for feral cats in a storage shed he heats with a paraffin stove. He has also rescued a dog, Pochi.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

An animal rescue activist holds a bowl of bait that is used to trap and rescue abandoned feral cats, in a restricted zone in Namie, on February 21. Kato leaves food for feral cats in a storage shed he heats with a paraffin stove. He has also rescued a dog, Pochi.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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Sakae Kato eats instant noodles for dinner at his home in a restricted zone in Namie on February 20. The 57-year-old, a small construction business owner in his former life, says his decision to stay as 160,000 other people evacuated the area was spurred in part by the shock of finding dead pets in abandoned houses he helped demolish.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Sakae Kato eats instant noodles for dinner at his home in a restricted zone in Namie on February 20. The 57-year-old, a small construction business owner in his former life, says his decision to stay as 160,000 other people evacuated the area was spurred in part by the shock of finding dead pets in abandoned houses he helped demolish.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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Sakae Kato lies in bed next to Charm, a cat who he rescued five years ago and is infected with feline leukemia virus, at his home in a restricted zone in Namie on February 20. Kato estimates he spends $7,000 a month on his animals, part of it to buy dog food for wild boar that gather near his house at sunset. Farmers consider them pests, and also blame them for wrecking empty homes.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Sakae Kato lies in bed next to Charm, a cat who he rescued five years ago and is infected with feline leukemia virus, at his home in a restricted zone in Namie on February 20. Kato estimates he spends $7,000 a month on his animals, part of it to buy dog food for wild boar that gather near his house at sunset. Farmers consider them pests, and also blame them for wrecking empty homes.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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Sakae Kato walks past black bags containing contaminated soil from the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear plant, in a restricted zone in Namie on February 21. On February 25, Kato was arrested on suspicion of freeing wild boar caught in traps set up by Japan's government in November, Reuters reported.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Sakae Kato walks past black bags containing contaminated soil from the fallout of the Fukushima nuclear plant, in a restricted zone in Namie on February 21. On February 25, Kato was arrested on suspicion of freeing wild boar caught in traps set up by Japan's government in November, Reuters reported.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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Sakae Kato pets a rescued cat at his house, in a restricted zone in Namie on February 20. Yumiko Konishi, a vet from Tokyo who helps Kato, told Reuters that local volunteers were caring for the cats on his property, but at least one had died since he was detained.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

Sakae Kato pets a rescued cat at his house, in a restricted zone in Namie on February 20. Yumiko Konishi, a vet from Tokyo who helps Kato, told Reuters that local volunteers were caring for the cats on his property, but at least one had died since he was detained.(Kim Kyung-Hoon / REUTERS)

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 04:11 PM IST
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