22 Février 2015
February 22, 2015
By YU KOTSUBO/ Staff Writer
FUKUSHIMA--For half a century, Nobuo Sakurai has indulged in his hobby of wandering around eastern Fukushima Prefecture to observe nature and gather samples.
His vast collection of nearly 10,000 samples, rescued from decay after the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in March 2011, might now be the only specimens left to accurately determine how nature has changed in the prefecture since the triple disaster.
“It can be said that (Sakurai’s) samples are the only materials that show the past vegetation of areas affected by the disaster,” said Takahide Kurosawa, professor of plant taxonomy at Fukushima University. “It is necessary to consider a facility to gather, store and show such precious materials in a comprehensive manner.”
Photos of nearly 3,000 of Sakurai’s samples are on display on the Digital Hyohon-kan (Digital sample museum) website of Shimane University, which has cooperative relations with Fukushima University.
Researchers are studying the actual samples, stored at Fukushima University, to find out how the disaster has affected plants in the prefecture.
Sakurai, now 84, is a former elementary school teacher who has continued to observe plants and animals in the Abukuma-kogen highland and the Hama-dori region, both in the eastern part of Fukushima Prefecture.
He has also gathered specimens, including non-native species, in the southern part of Miyagi Prefecture and northern areas of Ibaraki Prefecture. He is now chairman of the Abukuma Seibutsu Dokokai (Abukuma creature club).
Once, when he visited Tohoku University to ask for the name of a plant he could not identify, a researcher told him, “You should know more than I.”
One of his samples, wrapped in a newspaper from 1982, is a plant with leaves that have browned. Handwriting on a slip of paper identifies the sample as the Asian beaked hazel.
As Sakurai became older, however, he grew worried about how to store and use the samples. He often talked about the problem with his younger brother-in-law, Fukuo Suenaga, 72, secretary-general of the club.
The samples were kept in a space above the garage of Sakurai’s house in Minami-Soma in Fukushima Prefecture.
But after the meltdowns at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, Sakurai’s house became part of a designated no-entry zone, and he was unable to freely return home from a temporary housing facility.
The nuclear disaster also prevented Suenaga from using his house in Namie.
Concerned that insects or mold would deplete or destroy the value of Sakurai’s samples, Suenaga asked an acquaintance, who was an official at the Minamisoma City Museum, for help. Through the museum official, Fukushima University agreed to store the samples.
From March 2012 to May 2013, Sakurai and Suenaga brought the samples to the university in three installments in cooperation with museum staff and university researchers.
In the first two installments, the samples underwent radiation checks because some areas in the garden of Sakurai’s house showed radiation levels exceeding 2 microsieverts per hour.
Sakurai, who still lives in temporary housing, appeared relieved that his 50-year effort would not go to waste.
“If I continue to store the samples, they will only decay,” he said.
The Minamisoma City Museum plans to display the samples to highlight the changes in nature caused by the disaster.
“It is important to convey pre-disaster memories (to future generations),” Suenaga said.