Cowboy Warrior: Inside Fukushima’s Ranch of Hope

Carlos Quiapo
6 min readNov 7, 2019

Just before sunset, herds of Japanese black (Kuroge) cattle lined up on lush greens and banks of mud, calling it a day. The scene was surreal, almost like a painting. One must think, Kuroge cattle are one of the most expensive breeds of Japanese cow, producing high-grade Wagyu. With Kuroge meat selling for up to $400 per kilogram and almost $15,000 per cow, this is one expensive ranch.

Masami Yoshizawa, owner of this ranch located in a town called Namie in Japan’s northern prefecture of Fukushima, led us to his barracks. Inside was a different story. Pictures of dead cows with missing legs, of carcasses filled with maggots, all lined up on the walls. Next to the images of dead cows, there was a photo of Yoshizawa in front of his mini truck at the famous Shibuya Crossing, demanding responsibility from the Japanese government for what had happened to his ranch and his cows.

Masami Yoshizawa

On March 11, 2011, the strongest earthquake in Japanese history and the resulting tsunamis ravaged Namie and the nearby cities of Fukushima Prefecture. The neighboring Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was also damaged during the earthquake and tsunami. This led to its meltdown, explosion, and subsequent release of radioactive materials over the coastal towns of Fukushima.

Yoshizawa’s ranch is within the 20-km Exclusion Zone set by the Japanese government after the nuclear power plant’s meltdown. Within days, evacuation notices were set and people were forced to leave their homes and livelihoods behind, including Yoshizawa and the over 300 Kuroge cows he was taking care of.

With no more use for the 300 cows considering the dangers they pose after exposure to radioactive materials, the government ordered for these cows to be slaughtered. Yoshizawa was asked to leave and was given two options: the cows will be slaughtered, or the cows will starve to death. These cows have all then become white elephants.

When the Self-Defense Forces came to escort him out of the ghost town, he used his tow trucks to block the entrance to his ranch. He was going to fight for his cows, and he did eventually. “I knew I had to come back, my cows weren’t going to starve to death.”

In the following years, he would travel down south to Tokyo, in front of TEPCO’s headquarters, demanding responsibility for what had happened in their nuclear plants. He also demanded to hold talks with various government officials, telling them what they really need to recover. He said he has done this over one hundred times.

In the next few months, he will be visiting Jordan, India, and Vietnam — nuclear hotbeds for an ongoing bidding war between Japan and Russia over the construction of new nuclear power plants. He aims to spark debates about the dangers of these power plants.

He explained that Kuroge (lit. black hair) is known for its fur color. A year after the meltdown, he noticed white spots on the cows. He went to the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Ministry of Education, to ask for help. He said that they couldn’t give him any answers. After some time, the updates stopped entirely. He had suspected they didn’t want anything to do with his cattle.

In 2018, he ran for the mayoral office of Namie in hopes of rebuilding the ghost town. Despite losing the elections, he is still continuing his fight for Fukushima’s recovery. He built this giant Cow Godzilla, an art piece made of metal and mesh, depicting a radioactive monster-esque bull to represent the terrors that his town and ranch have felt. Appropriately, he equates it to Godzilla, the iconic radioactive monster that has destroyed Tokyo in various films since its creation. A blaring pair of speakers blast the infamous Godzilla theme, warning of an impending doom.

Cow Godzilla

It mirrors what happened in Fukushima. Below the belly of the Cow-Godzilla hangs a red ball, representing the same red ball that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his Mario costume, had during the ceremonial Olympic event in Rio 2016. “This is a bomb, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is a bomb waiting to happen.”

Red Olympic Bomb

He revealed that the government is not doing anything anymore to oppose his insistence that he keep the ranch and his cattle . “They are getting ready for the Olympics, and they want to show the world that Fukushima has recovered. That the ranch and the cows look healthy. But we have not. We still can’t sell these cows.”

Yoshizawa said he wasn’t taking care of his cows only for the government to use them as a cover up. “We’re here to protest against that. The Olympics is going to be a disaster. It will be too hot for athletes, and who knows, natural disaster might occur. We already had major typhoons that rendered Tokyo powerless.”

His message is scary but he never means to plant fear; he wants the Japanese Government to be aware of its responsibilities. It’s an echo of the realities in Fukushima. Eight years later, the ghost towns and the people who decided to come back are still struggling to build the prefecture back up.

Most products coming from Fukushima are rejected by the world and the rest of the country out of fear of radiation. And with no source of income, the town has become dependent on donations and volunteer work. This is all behind the fact that Fukushima powered most of the neighboring prefectures including Tokyo before the disaster.

“If this happens to Tokyo, I hope the government will not neglect them. It has already been eight years, and my people have yet to come back. My cows will have not more than 15 years left to live, but if we don’t do anything, this can happen all over again sooner than we are ready.” He said he plans to stay in the town for as long as the cows live.

“Fukushima still powers Tokyo, so why are we the ones suffering from discrimination, and government neglect?” he asked, explaining how painful it was to protest in Shibuya, seeing all the light that Tokyoites enjoy, without knowing where it came from and its cost.

He calls for the total removal of nuclear power plants in Japan, and to find better ways to power the island-country. “I only want us to be responsible for what happened in Fukushima in 2011.” He still aims to continue with more protests against the upcoming Olympics and the continuous neglect of the government of Japan towards his town and the rest of Fukushima.

This is part of Japan Wonder Travel’s Two Day Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Tour. See: japanwondertravel.com for more information.

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Carlos Quiapo

capricorn love child of friedrich nietzsche and ariana grande.