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.

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