Crisis transforms Tokyo into ghost town

2011-03-16 13:55

Tokyo - Areas of Tokyo usually packed with office workers crammed into sushi restaurants and noodle shops were eerily quiet. Many schools were closed. Companies allowed workers to stay home. Long queues formed at airports.

As Japanese authorities struggled to avert disaster at an earthquake-battered nuclear complex 240km to the north, parts of Tokyo resembled a ghost town.

Many stocked up on food and stayed indoors or simply left, transforming one of the world's biggest and most densely populated cities into a shell of its usual self.

"Look, it's like Sunday - no cars in town," said Kazushi Arisawa, a 62-year-old taxi driver as he waited for more than an hour outside an office tower where he usually finds customers within minutes. "I can't make money today."

"It's also very windy today and that is making people more worried about radiation".

Such worries are misplaced, for now. Wind over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant is gusting out to sea and even the strongest radiation recorded in Tokyo on Tuesday - triple the normal levels - was no threat to human health.

Public anxiety unchecked

At its worst, radiation in Tokyo reached 0.809 microsieverts per hour on Tuesday after a hydrogen explosion at the plant. That's 10 times below what a person would receive if exposed to a dental x-ray for an entire hour.

And for the day, radiation averaged just 0.109 mircosieverts - barely above average.

But that does little to allay public anxiety about an ailing 40-year-old nuclear complex with three reactors in partial meltdown and a fourth with spent atomic fuel exposed to the atmosphere after last week's earthquake and tsunami.

"Radiation moves faster than we do," said Steven Swanson, a 43-year-old American who moved to Tokyo in December with his Japanese wife to help with her family business.

He is staying indoors but is tempted to leave Tokyo. "It's scary. It's a triple threat with the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear radiation leaks. It makes you wonder what's next."

A number of major events have been cancelled, including the World Figure Skating Championships, Japan Fashion Week and the Tokyo International Anime Fair whose organisers cited "extreme circumstances" based on uncertainties about power supply and accessibility.

Small business to suffer

Some areas are hit by rolling blackouts and reduced train services as the nuclear plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, struggles to offset a drop in power capacity.

At Sony Corp's headquarters in Tokyo's Shinagawa district, only 120 staff of the usual 6 000 were working. Staff were told to stay at home as much as possible due to difficulties with train transportation, said Sony spokesperson Mami Imada.

In Akasaka, packed with office workers, sushi restaurants and noodle shops, streets were quiet even into the night when the area transforms into a neon-lit entertainment district.

"Akasaka has been dead quiet since the quake. We should be thankful we are alive but if this continues, the economy will be a disaster," said Akihiro Sumitani, owner of a shop that sells kitchen utensils.

"I seriously worry how many shops can survive as basically most shops in this area are small and have difficulty borrowing money from banks."

People stocked up food, milk and other supplies, emptying some shelves at convenience stores and supermarkets. Some residents towed suitcases. Many showed up at nearby airports without tickets, hoping to book flights out of Tokyo.

Conflicting information

Anthony Blick, an expatriate in Tokyo working from home since the earthquake, said he would prefer to leave.

"I'm worried about the nuclear reactors in Fukushima. There's a lot of information out there but unfortunately a lot of it is conflicting. Ideally, I would like to get out of Japan but that isn't practical at the moment."

Many schools were closed, but one mother interviewed outside an open kindergarten said she preferred her children stayed at school.

"I want them to do everything that we are allowed to do as long as it is safe," she said. "If I show them that I'm nervous, my children will get nervous."

  • Travie - 2011-03-16 14:08

    This is just hte beginning of what is going to happen all over the world.... All the rich people including celebrities are going to be brought to there knees and not have slaves and everything going there way. Poor people are going to find it easier to survive

      hannes.visagie - 2011-03-16 14:22

      Travie, my poor naive soul, the rich people (including the celebrities) will have it easy until the very end. Until money can't help them, any disaster like this is much worse for poor people. I can't possibly imagine why you think otherwise. If you are rich in Tokyo you get in your chopper and you bugger off, end of story, poor people cannot leave.

      DeonL - 2011-03-16 14:23

      Rich people don't have slaves, they pay theire workers. If you read the article carefully you will notice that a dentists X ray might be 10 x worse than Japan. This (staying at home) is a precautionary method. They have things +- under control. The poor will stay poor, rich get richer, that is the way of life for centuries.

      anna - 2011-03-16 14:30

      Why the grudge? Your picking on rich people gives me the impression that you are one of the poor who choose not to work and this is how you justify that decision? Kind of hoping things get worse so you can keep on living like a bum? Don't forget that a lot of wealthy people have worked very hard and some of them do remain very humble giving lots of their money away. But yes, if you're right we will all be on the same level.

      fantasticjac - 2011-03-16 14:42

      @ Travie. What the what? Well now, so you had a clear-cut vision of what the future looks like? Have you ever heard of constructive criticism? And do you think disasters are selective in deciding who to kill? I've met some rich people in my life that are way more humble than some really poor people I've met. It's up to the individual. You my friend are a class-A asshole for your cruelty.

      avonhelden - 2011-03-16 14:49

      @Travie - PSYCHO!!!!!!

      Michel - 2011-03-17 09:55

      Travie, sorry, what the hell are you on about?

      John - 2011-03-20 18:59

      Dream on

  • Nico - 2011-03-16 14:17

    just on a technical point: it is microsievert not mircosievert

      Fat Rucker - 2011-03-16 14:42

      That's not a technical point, it's a pedantic one...

      Michel - 2011-03-17 09:57


  • jiamalunga - 2011-03-16 14:45

    Travie you must be ANC supporte to get on the rich, poor and slave wagon. Do you feel like a slave my boy?

  • John - 2011-03-16 14:55

    siener van rensburg prophetisized it he said Japan will be destroyed by earhquakes Page 390 "siener van rensburg profeet van God"

      Freddie - 2011-03-16 15:16

      John, what a load of bull. (Geddit, John Bull) Firstly Japan is not destroyed, it is still there and secondly predicting an earthquake in Japan in not earth shattering. (excuse the pun) It is in a major earthquake fault zone. I predict a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, an earthquake in Chile and tornadoes in Missouri. Does that make me a prophet? No, it is simple physics.

      Madelane - 2011-03-16 16:21

      Freddie it does certainly not make you a prophet. Siener van Rensburg was a simple man who had no contact with the outside world much less a great knowledge on earthquake zones on this planet. Do not mock to much as it has a habit of rebounding.

      Johan - 2011-03-16 18:20

      Although I must agree to Freddie, one must bear in mind that when Siener Van Rensburg publish his prophesy the science on Earthquakes and their likely locality was very much unknown.

      Paul Clark - 2011-03-16 18:30

      I must agree with John. Siener saw a flag that was white with a red dot on it. that was quite a few years before the flag of Japan was born... He predicted that that country would be destroyed by earthquakes.

  • andre - 2011-03-16 16:45

    Poor Travie - Like the poor people of Africa, they find it so easy to survive, forever begging for help from the rich governments of America and Europe. THE RICH MAKE THE POOR SURVIVE.

  • andre - 2011-03-16 16:51

    Poor Travie - The poor in Africa find it so easy to survive, forever begging form the rich Americans and Europeans. THE RICH MAKE THE POOR SURVIVE. The Japanese rich are supporting thousands of South Africans who would have starved if it was not for their investment in factories and other industries.

  • Alex millne - 2011-03-16 17:14

    I'm sorry but this is like really stupid! Who would receive dental x-ray for an entire hour?? That doesn't make sense! An X Ray is taken within milliseconds! So if its 10 times less then a 1 hour dental X ray - THAT IS STILL SH*T LOAD OF RADIATION! I don't know where these people writing this get their facts! But please get your facts right! - I'm a Radiography student

  • ILOVEME - 2011-03-16 19:23

    are you people normal really? that is a natural disaster now people are raising ANC, Africans being poor, the rich etc really what has this got to do with anything??? i give up at the level of maturity of people that post comments here - total 5th grade mentality to those that respond with racial connotations in every comment- grow up or just stay out of forums

      Michel - 2011-03-17 10:04

      Travie started it..

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