Update from Tokyo

Following up on last week’s letter, here’s an update from my father who lives in Tokyo.

–The New York Times says just short of half a million people are now in “shelters,” which in most cases means living on a blanket spread out on the floor of a high-school gymnasium. Most of these rural people have lost everything, even their money, which they did not keep in the local bank but in the top drawer of their bureau, which has been swept away.

–Most recent addition to the shelters are a young boy and an 80-year-old woman rescued after eight days under rubble.

–Shibuya crossing in front of Shibuya Station is known for its people jams, in which 600 people can step off the curb when the light changes. These days, however, it’s more like fifty people.

–One fashionably dressed lady in the train this morning was wearing a highly polished helmet.

–In the stations, escalators going up are operating, but people are expected to descend to the platform on their own. Elevators are kept operating, though, for people who genuinely have difficulty climbing stairs.

–Although many stores in Tokyo are closed or at least partially shut down, the cosmetics counters on the first floor of department stores, where some of Tokyo’s most attractive ladies man the stands, are open for business. A morale booster, clearly.

–Gasoline is being rationed, which everyone understands. By lining up early in the morning at the stand at the bottom of the hill, we were able to get 12 liters–maybe four gallons. But in Tokyo the trains take us wherever we want. In the rural disaster area, people can’t get anywhere without a car. They may have to drive 30 kilometers for gasoline.

–We have heard of a family living uncomfortably close to the endangered power plants evacuating to Yokohama. A family of eight in a car driving 150 miles.

–We learned a few days ago that radiation has been detected in shipments of spinach. In its determination to provide everyone with as much information as possible, NHK shows a map of the ten prefectures in question, with the precise level of radiation one could expect in the spinach from each prefecture.

–“Foreigners” seeing videos of residents of Tokyo wearing white face masks might think they are protection against radiation. No, it’s protection against hay-fever pollen.

–There are far fewer ads in the trains and stations than usual, although beer ads celebrating the coming of spring (tra la) are plentiful.

My mother adds that she had to give up on getting milk at the local grocery store because the line was too long. Milk supplies are down because radiation contamination has impacted the supply. The local department store was only open from 4pm until 7pm as they were trying to save on electricity and she recently had to line up at 6am to get gasoline for the family car which is being rationed out to just 10 liters/car.

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Meanwhile, I read in local press that the Finns have moved the seven staff in their Tokyo office down south with the Danes in their Hiroshima offices. This move was prompted, in a historic twist of irony, to avoid potential nuclear fallout from the reactors in Fukushima.

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