Teacher’s 50-year hobby key to studying nature in pre-disaster Fukushima via Asahi Shimbun

FUKUSHIMA–For half a century, Nobuo Sakurai has indulged in his hobby of wandering around eastern Fukushima Prefecture to observe nature and gather samples.

His vast collection of nearly 10,000 samples, rescued from decay after the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in March 2011, might now be the only specimens left to accurately determine how nature has changed in the prefecture since the triple disaster.

“It can be said that (Sakurai’s) samples are the only materials that show the past vegetation of areas affected by the disaster,” said Takahide Kurosawa, professor of plant taxonomy at Fukushima University. “It is necessary to consider a facility to gather, store and show such precious materials in a comprehensive manner.”
Sakurai, now 84, is a former elementary school teacher who has continued to observe plants and animals in the Abukuma-kogen highland and the Hama-dori region, both in the eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture.

As Sakurai became older, however, he grew worried about how to store and use the samples. He often talked about the problem with his younger brother-in-law, Fukuo Suenaga, 72, secretary-general of the club.

The samples were kept in a space above the garage of Sakurai’s house in Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture.

But after the meltdowns at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, Sakurai’s house became part of a designated no-entry zone, and he was unable to freely return home from a temporary housing facility.

The nuclear disaster also prevented Suenaga from using his house in Namie.
From March 2012 to May 2013, Sakurai and Suenaga brought the samples to the university in three installments in cooperation with museum staff and university researchers.

In the first two installments, the samples underwent radiation checks because some areas in the garden of Sakurai’s house showed radiation levels exceeding 2 microsieverts per hour.

Sakurai, who still lives in temporary housing, appeared relieved that his 50-year effort would not go to waste.

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