By Richard Shears
“It is one of the great cities of the world, home to 13 million and as advanced as any metropolis on the planet. Now Tokyo, usually so full of life by day and night, has the aura of death about it. Its lights have been cut, supermarket shelves are empty, there are queues for everything and aftershocks come every day.
The British government has joined other nations in urging its citizens to leave the country whatever way they can, including banding together to join a charter flight. Other Britons trapped in the tsunami-stricken Sendai area have been offered the chance of being driven to Tokyo on a chartered bus. But it will be a long journey because the vehicle will have to skirt around the nuclear power plant which stands between Sendai and the capital.
Some Britons have taken their own steps to get out of Tokyo, among them 23-year-old Kezia Poole, an English language teacher from London who has lived in Japan for 13 months. 'I'm flying to the Australian Gold Coast tomorrow,' she said. 'I'll sit back and breathe in the clean, fresh air. It's just not worth waiting around in Tokyo listening to officials telling us this and telling us that.' She leaves behind a city in fear – a city that was plunged into darkness last night as electricity was cut to conserve power following the massive loss of production at Fukushima.
In Roppongi, the red-light district which is usually thick with crowds, where English girls play hostess to deceitful Japanese husbands, there was hardly a customer in sight. A British hostess, who would give her name only as Jenny, was already on her way home before midnight, when usually business is thriving. 'They've said I can leave early,' the blonde, heavily wrapped in leather and furs, said in her north country accent. 'A lot of us haven't seen much of the news – how bad is it, then?'
There was no one in the whole of Tokyo who could tell her that, and even if they did, would it be the truth? For the words coming from the lips of government spokesmen and the Tokyo Electric Company officials who have been holding daily press conferences carry mixed messages: 'We are working at the problem, the radiation is not harmful to humans, you should stay indoors and keep the windows closed, the levels have gone up, the levels have gone down, we've managed to pour water on the rods and that should cool them, the radiation has gone up again.'
Little wonder that many businesses sent their workers home early in the hope of beating the evening rush hour. The result was long queues at stations for trains, many of which were suddenly cancelled because of fears that rolling blackouts would affect services. 'I just want to be with my children right now,' said an insurance company secretary waiting in the biting cold in a long queue. 'I don't know if my train is running, there are no cabs available and I have no other means of getting home. Everyone wants to leave Tokyo, or at least be home with their families because of the uncertainty.' Some, braving the cold and whatever they feared might be carried in the air, stood in front of public TV sets to watch government officials trying to explain what was happening at Fukushima. Their reaction was sceptical.
'We're living in modern times. We have robots in the factories, our technology is world famous and yet we end up pouring buckets of water on a nuclear plant,' said one office worker. 'This is taking us back years. We're going to be in darkness for a long time.' Whether he meant darkness at night because of power cuts or darkness because of what lies ahead for the nation, didn't seem to matter. It is going to be dark in Tokyo and up the coast, where hundreds of thousands shiver and cry for everyone and everything they have lost, for a very long time to come."