The two novellas in this volume, both written in response to Japan’s March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown disasters, focus on the fate of cattle and cats in the disaster zone while also pondering the future of human society.
The central character of the title work is Hiromi Nishino, 33, a woman who decides to spend three days working as a volunteer on a ranch in Fukushima in December 2011. The ranch is located in the town of Namie, 223 square kilometers in size, 80% of which falls within the officially designated “difficult to return zone”?in other words, uninhabitable for the foreseeable future?due to the levels of radioactive contamination from the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
At the time of the accident, there were 3,500 head of cattle within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant, including Namie. Of these, 1,600 were slaughtered, many others succumbed to starvation or accidental death after being abandoned, and only about 800 now remain alive. Fed up with her husband’s abuse at home, Nishino comes to Namie in spite of his objections after learning of a ranch that styles itself “The Fortress of Hope.” Here, some 360 of the surviving cattle are pastured under the owner’s care, in direct defiance of the law. Having hopped from job to job, she hasn’t been employed since quitting a temp agency a year ago. Now, as a volunteer, she wades through cow manure to feed the cattle hay that is known to be contaminated with radioactive cesium. She gazes in astonishment at the radiation dosimeter that shows her exposure to be 100 times the rate in Tokyo. Invisible radiation is continuously accumulating in the soil, grass, trees, water, air, cattle, and even her own body. As she works, she intuits the anger of these surviving cattle who watched their fellows starve to death.
Author Yūsuke Kimura brings into sharp relief truths that we must neither turn away from nor ever forget.