Thursday, June 30, 2011

Finally back in Tokyo Part 3 - My experiences of the 03.11 Disaster

When the earthquake on March 11 happened, I was in Miajima, a small island next to Hiroshima. Hiroshima is more than 1000 km away from the epicentre and I didn’t even recognize the quake. I remember that I got the first news back in the hostel, when some other backpackers told me that there was a strong earthquake and a tsunami in northern Japan. When we checked news pages in the internet and saw some videos, I finally realized that this was not just a bit stronger earthquake which happens some times a year in Japan but a major quake that caused a lot of damage. Even in Tokyo, electricity, the Shinkansen and almost the whole public transportation system were down. I was really glad that my sister and my friend left Japan, only one day before, and concerned about my friends and all the people I know in Tokyo and the northern parts of Japan. Unfortunately, I had no mobile phone these days, because of problems with my contract, so it was not so easy to get in contact. Therefore, facebook and email were great to check that everyone was right and that there was no major damage in Tokyo. I also send out live signs from my hostel in Hiroshima.
sayonara Nippon
I left Japan with a great view on Nikko, 
where I have been 4 month before
The next days, I recognized that the disaster was even worse than expected. On top of one of the strongest earthquakes that ever happened and a tsunami with a high of more than 15 meters at some points, a nuclear accident happened that became more serious every day. It took me a lot of time and cogency to convince my friends and family in Germany that I was more than 1000 km away from the nuclear accident and there was no danger from higher radioactivity in Kyushu.
But even when Kyushu was save and everything was quite normal there, I always had in mind that I eventually had to go back to Tokyo and I listened to the news with increasing concerns. At March 18, two days before I originally planned to go back, I had several options.
1.         I could take my flight on March 20, go back to Tokyo and figure out what to do there.
I left most of my documents, including my passport and my valuables in my dormitory and it would give me more options to be in Tokyo.
2.         I could try to avoid Tokyo and get a flight back to Germany. At that time, Lufthansa shifted their flights from Tokyo-Narita-Airport to Osaka-Airport. The major problem would be to get my passport and the documents I needed to re-enter Japan. It would have been possible but not so easy and even when almost everyone in Germany told me to do so, this plan was too drastic and some kind of overreacting for me.
3.         I could skip my flight and stay in Kyushu for some additional days. Additional holidays sounded great but I knew that the crisis wouldn’t be solved in a few days and I would have the same or an even bigger problem in a few days again. Also, cheap hostels were running out because many tourists and foreigners also tried to get as far away from the power plants as possible. At one day in Fukuoka, I slept in a hostel that was made for 10 – 15 people but was overbooked with more than 30 people staying there.
4.         It was like a sign that I met a German student during my travel, who invited me to stay at his place in Okayama for as long as I needed. Okayama was half the way to Tokyo, close to Osaka and I could stay there without spending a lot of money for accommodation. That would give me the possibility to calm down a bit and to think about what to do next without a rush. So, I accepted his invitation and took a night bus to Okayama instead of flying back to Tokyo. I am really thankful for this guy, who offered me accommodation even when he barely knew me. Thanks a lot, Peter.
The stay in Okayama gave me the time to think about my next steps. During that time, the radioactivity in Tokyo’s tap water was six time as high as normal and the nuclear crisis was on its most serious stage. Even when I didn’t want to leave Japan and skip my program, it was not the right time to go back to Tokyo and pretend that everything is normal. So I decided to rebook my flight, originally scheduled on August 10, to the end of March and left for Germany. My flight started from Tokyo-Narita-Airport. I promised my family and friends to avoid radioactive exposure a much as possibly and went back to Tokyo just two days before my flight, to meet my friends, take my passport and valuables and to get a re-entry permission. On March 26 I took my flight and 11 hours later I landed in Germany.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tsukiji Fish Market

In early March 2011, we visited Tsukiji-Fish-Market in Tokyo. It is the largest fish-market in the world and evolved into a famous tourist attraction. It’s shaped like a quarter-circle, located directly at the Tokyo-bay. The circle is divided into several rings, where the fish is unloaded from trawlers at the periphery and prepared and sold at the outer ring. In the inner ring, the fish is loaded on trucks. In the centre are shops and restaurants and additional loading zones. It’s a very busy place, especially in the early morning, when the new freight arrives. Actually, tourists are not allowed to enter the fish-market except of the centre before 9:00 am. The rules are not that strict and nobody hinders you from going there earlier, but you should remind that this is not a tourist place but a place where people have to do serious business. So don’t come in large groups and leave large bags at home. And take care not to stand in the way of someone and particularly take care of the scooters which are dashing between the stalls. It is commonly known that the pilots enjoy hunting careless tourists. 

Especially the tuna-auction has become very popular by (foreign) tourist. It became so popular that they had to restrict the visits, because the tourist mob hindered the business or even damaged the expensive frozen tunas; each tuna has a value of some thousand Euros. Now they allow only two guided groups of 70 people to see the auction. One tour starts at 5, the other at 6 o’clock in the morning. It is well visited so you would better be there at 4 o’clock. That’s at least what I’ve heard. It was way too early for us, so we decided to go there to a more humane time, at about 7:30 am. At this time, the small restaurants in the central area are already open and you can have a good sushi-breakfast with the freshest sushi you will ever get (price from 1000 – 5000 Yen). The best (and normally most expensive) shops are easily to find because of the long queues in front of them. We chose a nice middle-priced restaurant with a queue that was not to long, but still long enough to indicate that the sushi there was worth its price.
At around 8:30 am, we started to explore the fish-market. At this time, it was still quite busy, even when most of the large customers already made their business. I never saw so many different kinds of fish and seafood like on this day. It is almost like visiting an aquarium, except most of the fish is dead or close before. Indeed, it can be a little disturbing for people how are not used to see where the food they eat comes from and how it is prepared. But for everyone else (and also for those people), it is interesting to see and I can really recommend everyone to visit Tsukiji-Fish-Market. If you want more pictures, click here.
Another evidence that Japan is the country of vending machines. This one sells books and mangas in a subway-station in Tokyo.