Monkeys and mankind have come into conflict after the first humans returned to Japanese villages that were abandoned after a nuclear meltdown nine years ago.
The Fukushima disaster – a nuclear meltdown triggered by the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami, was second only to Chernobyl in its devastating effects.
Hundreds of thousands of people had to evacuated after three reactors exploded at the Daiichi nuclear power station, leaving the irradiated forests empty for almost a decade.
But now people are beginning to reclaim deserted villages – only to find that wild boar, raccoons, foxes and especially monkeys have made small towns like Minamisoma their own.
One local, Shuichi Kanno, spoke to NPR about moving back to the area he grew up in: ”The monkeys never used to come here, but after the disaster, the border between monkeys and humans has blurred,” he said.
“The houses were empty, but the gardens were still growing,” Shuichi said. “Plums, pears, chestnuts, persimmons. It was a wonderland for monkeys, an all-you-can-eat buffet. And they remembered that.”
Shuichi has been at war with the troops of macaques that has taken possession of his neighbourhood. His chief weapon is the “Animal Exterminating Firework” – designed to scare the creatures off rather than actually killing them.
But it’s only a matter of time before they return: “In the early morning while I’m sleeping, just when I’m about to wake up, I hear the noise,” says the determined 79-year-old.
“The sound of the monkeys running around on the roof, getting into the gardens, eating all my food,” he explains. “I have to fight them.”
Shuichi’s wife Yuriko says it’s like living in a Planet of the Apes film: “I’ve been worried that this village is going to become like that movie, the monkey planet one,” she says. “I’ve seen it,” she adds “it could happen!”
But even if the monkeys could be persuaded to stay away, with high levels of radioactive caesium still polluting the dense woods life in the area will never be the same as it was.
“I loved hiking, and foraging for wild vegetables, finding wild mushrooms. But now it’s so dangerous,” Shuichi said.
“We can’t have a relationship with nature anymore. It’s gone.”