Mr. Naoto Matsumura and 500Frogs

by Anne Thomas

Deb Buckler of California started the 500Frog Project right after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku Japan. Her wish was to give hand painted frogs to children who had suffered during the disaster. “Kaeru” means “frog” in Japanese, and also “come home” and “change”.  Deb’s “Kaeru” endeavor has been very successful. Hundreds of people from all over the USA and parts of Europe have decorated frogs. And they have been given to children in both Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures. And more of these very moving donation days are lined up for the future.

Deb’s concern for people goes well beyond that of children. She is an animal lover as well. So when she heard of the commendable work being done by Naoto Matsumura in Tomioka Town in Fukushima, she wanted to reach out to him also. In April 2011 Mr. Matsumura was featured in several foreign newspapers for his courageous efforts for the animals left behind when people were forced to evacuate from their nuclear infested town. Mr. Matsumura refused to leave, despite warnings from the authorities. “How can I leave the animals behind?” he queried. “They need to be fed. The cows need to be milked. I have to stay here for them.”

Thanks to his selfless devotion to animals, Mr. Matsumura has become quite a hero among animal lovers worldwide. And because of that, plus his doing this alone, Deb Buckler wanted to be sure he, too, got a frog. In a recent e-mail she said, “I am SO touched by his resolve and strength of spirit to hold his own like he does. He has true courage of his convictions and I am impressed at his bravery to stay there in that town all by himself. I would love for him to know that the rest of the world knows he exists and cares about what he is doing. I really believe in honoring even seemingly small things like this, which are so meaningful.”

Then she asked me if I might be willing to find Mr. Matsumura to give him a frog. I love plunging into the unknown to explore the possibilities that often awaken there. So, I agreed to go. I was not sure how to go about finding Mr. Matsumura, however, since he was in the very center of the No-Go Zone around the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. I chatted with a kindred soul, Mayumi, about this and we ended up deciding to go together to see what we could do.

I wore my oldest clothes, just in case we would have to destroy everything we had on after venturing into such a dangerous place. But Mayumi had checked on the Internet and found that Tomioka Town’s City Hall was in temporary quarters in Koriyama City. She thought we should start there. That sounded reasonable, so I agreed, although I was not sure they would even admit that Mr. Matsumura was there. After all, he had defied a government order to evacuate.

We found the metal shed acting as the city hall, and much to our amazement outside was a logo with a bright green frog as its motif. There was also a frog windmill outside. Of course, Mayumi and I immediately sensed that things were working in our favor.

And indeed they were. Every person we spoke to was very attentive to our story. “Mr. Matsumura is famous and very respected among foreign animal loves,” we explained. Finally we were able to talk to a very warm, caring woman in charge of helping to locate people from Tomioka Town. “Of course we know Mr. Matsumura,” she said to us. “He used to be in Tomioka Town helping the animals. But now someone else goes there to try to do that work. The animals have become quite wild and we are trying to find ways to deal with them. Now Mr. Matsumura goes around the entire area, but he is no longer in Tomioka Town itself. I have his cell phone number. Let me see if I can reach him.”

She tried several times, but was not able to get through to him. So we left our phone numbers, the bright red frog and a letter for him. She promised to give the frog and letter to the man who often sees Mr. Matsumura so he could deliver it. And she also said that she would call us back to let us know the final outcome of this little venture.

Mayumi and I left pleased. Even though we had not actually given the frog directly to Mr. Matsumura, we both felt sure he would eventually receive it. And of course, we hoped he would feel touched by the concern and respect so many foreigners feel for him, a man who lives true to his own convictions, no matter what the world tells him he should do.

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