Shuichi Kanno rips tape off the top of a large cardboard box at his house in the mountains in Fukushima prefecture in Japan. He opens the box and rustles around to pull out pack after pack of long, thin Roman candle fireworks. The words “Animal Exterminating Firework” are written in Japanese on the side of each canister.
Kanno has been battling hordes of macaque monkeys that have encroached upon his neighborhood in a rural area of Minamisoma. These fireworks are his main deterrent — not to cause the monkeys any physical harm, but to scare them away with a loud bang. That is, until they regain their confidence and come back a few days later, which they do like clockwork, Kanno says.
“The monkeys never used to come here, but after the disaster, the border between monkeys and humans has blurred,” Kanno explains. “The houses were empty, but the gardens were still growing — plums, pears, chestnuts, persimmons. It was a wonderland for monkeys, an all-you-can-eat buffet. And they remembered that.”
His neighborhood is on the very edge of the evacuation area, relatively far from Daiichi. People stayed away for only a few years, but by the time they came back, the monkeys had become comfortable. And, Kanno points out, half the houses are still empty and only older people came back. They just don’t have the numbers they need to win the battle against the monkeys without backup.
“Look, I think they’re cute. I would absolutely never hurt them,” he says. “None of this is their fault. It’s nuclear power’s fault. It’s the fault of humans.”
Shuichi Kanno is a leader in the neighborhood, and he’s in charge of distributing the fireworks to any of his neighbors who want them. The neighbors all have to sign an agreement saying they understand the dangers and — most importantly, he says — that they will not hurt any animals.
He loads the fireworks into the trunk of his car and drives down forest roads from house to house, dropping off packs of fireworks at every stop. As he drives, he points to all the natural beauty in the area. The nuclear disaster didn’t just change his relationship with monkeys, he says.
“I loved hiking, and foraging for wild vegetables, finding wild mushrooms. But now it’s so dangerous,” Kanno explains, referring to the high levels of radioactive cesium still present in the dense forests here. “We can’t have a relationship with nature anymore. It’s gone.”