On Tuesday morning, I wrote a quick email to some British women I was hoping to interview this week for my research on expatriate life in Japan. They replied that they had been advised to evacuate and were leaving immediately. By whom? And why now? I turned on the TV to watch the Prime Minister`s announcement of the fire and radiation leak in whatever reactor had blown this time. Advice to those within a 30km radius was to stay inside with the doors and windows shut and not to use their air conditioners. Don`t bring in washing. It was obviously an extremely serious situation. I went back to the internet to see what the expat bloggers were writing. Some wrote that a radiation cloud could reach Tokyo within five hours. I packed a suitcase, took it to the local convenience store and had it sent by next-day delivery to a chum in Nagoya. It cost about 5 pounds. Then I went home, had lunch, switched the gas off and left. There were few people out and only one other woman at the bus stop. She had a backpack, two large bags and a toddler.
As I took the bus to the train station, I could see that shops had switched off a lot of their lighting. There seemed to be vegetables but no rice, bread or noodles. At the station, Starbucks was still closed but I was just in time to catch a train heading for Tokyo station. I expected it to be packed, as the Chuo line always is. I got a seat. The train was nearly empty. Most of the other passengers, like me, had cases on wheels.
At Tokyo station, I queued for nearly an hour for a seat on a Nozomi (super express bullet train) and then waited another hour until it left. I wanted a booked seat because I knew the non-booked carriages would be full. The station was packed and the ticket lines were so long that station employees were arranging people in neat, very long lines so as not to block the station concourses. Tokyo station is always busy but I heard one of the station guards saying, “Sugoi” (Wow!). Passengers seemed to consist of women, children, young people and foreigners.
I left on the 4.40 train which was on time as usual (although it was a few seconds late arriving in Nagoya, tut tut). The man sitting next to me was Chinese and he spent an hour calling a travel agency and booking flights and hotels. I had bought a latte and two croissants at the station designer deli and I sat on the train thinking that this was a bizarre situation. I was now a refugee. A latte and croissant refugee on the bullet train..
On arrival in Nagoya I met chums at a restaurant for dinner and had a very large beer. I told them about the constant quakes, the radiation leaks, the lack of food and the power outages, and they told me about a lecture they had just attended. The lecturer, from a British university, and I are now staying with my chum – also a lecturer. We went back to his place and I sat down. Phew, I said, it`s great to be out of it. At which point I felt vibrations coming up through the chair. We are about to have an earthquake I said. Rubbish, said my chum. Yes, we are! Said the lecturer, positioning himself in a door frame.. It was his first experience of an earthquake. Bless.