KATSURAO, Fukushima — A 42-year-old man resumed operations at his dairy farm on Sept. 13 with the arrival of eight cows at his barn, after an evacuation order for the 2011 nuclear crisis was lifted in most parts of the village here.
Tetsuji Sakuma, who is aiming to ship milk for public sale from the beginning of next year, restarted his business for the first time in 7 1/2 years after the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster. He did not give up hope of resuming his work even after being forced to evacuate and losing all his cattle as a result. “I hope to restore my finances and to lead this area (to recovery),” said the farmer, taking one step toward the reconstruction of his hometown.
Sakuma unloaded the cows from a truck into his barn with the help of his 68-year-old father Shinji. Sakuma laughed bitterly as he suddenly felt old, realizing he had “lost strength after not doing such work for 7 1/2 years,” but flashed a smile as he watched the cattle graze.
Everyone in the village was advised to evacuate on the night of March 14, 2011. Sakuma let his wife and child evacuate to Gunma Prefecture while he took shelter in the city of Fukushima with his parents. Ten of his cows were found dead when he returned on May 18.
Some 25 of his young cows were sent to a ranch in Hokkaido in June that year and the rest were shipped off to be culled for their meat following inspections. “People can evacuate, but cows have nowhere to escape,” the distressed farmer thought as he apologized to the cows.
Sakuma never once thought of shutting down his dairy farm. “I don’t want to be perceived as someone who quit in exchange for compensation. If I stop farming, I would feel like I have lost to these circumstances,” he stated. Sakuma has to repay a 100 million yen loan he took out to resume operations at his dairy farm and to work to eliminate damage caused by harmful rumors, as well as face many other challenges. “This is the point of no return,” said Sakuma, as he rolled up his sleeves to start his difficult journey.
(Japanese original by Rikka Teramachi, Fukushima Bureau)
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