By Issei Kato

These days, a mask, protective clothing and radiation counter have all become a usual part of reporting trips, as essential as a camera, lenses and a laptop. Soon, this situation will have gone on for a full year.

The 20 km (12 mile) zone around Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is now a virtual ghost town after being evacuated of residents due to radiation. I asked a friend, who was forced by the disaster to leave the area and has been searching for a way to resume work, for help, and was able to enter the area where he used to live.

The massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forced residents around the plant to flee, leaving behind in many cases their household belongings or pets. The triple whammy is still forcing more than 150,000 people from Fukushima prefecture to take refuge, nearly half of them from the no-go zone.

When entering the zone by car, I could see houses and shops destroyed by the earthquake. Traffic signals along the street were blinking yellow but there was no one around. Instead of residents, groups of cows which escaped from farms clopped along the street or in the gardens of houses. There was no sound of cars or people on a shopping street, only the noise of the wind and the bawling of cows.

Districts near the coast were badly affected by the tsunami and there is still a lot of debris: destroyed houses, cars, boats. A child’s abandoned bicycle and wheelchairs at a nursing home showed, I thought, how residents had to leave in a tremendous hurry in the aftermath of the unexpected accident.