Life goes out of parts of Tokyo

Life goes out of parts of Tokyo

As Japanese authorities struggled to avert disaster at an earthquake-battered nuclear complex 240 km to the north, parts of Tokyo resembled a ghost town.

Many stocked up on food and stayed indoors or simply left, transforming one of the world's biggest, most dynamic and densely populated cities into a shell of its usual self. “Look, it’s like Sunday — no cars in town,” said Kazushi Arisawa, a 62-year-old taxi driver as he waited for over an hour outside an office tower where he usually finds customers within minutes. “I can't make money today. It's also very windy, so people worried about radiation.”

Such worries are misplaced, for now. Wind over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant is gusting out to sea and even the strongest radiation recorded in Tokyo on Tuesday — triple the normal levels — was no threat to human health.

And for Wednesday, radiation was barely above average. But that does little to allay public anxiety about an ailing 40-year-old nuclear complex with three reactors in partial meltdown and a fourth with spent atomic fuel exposed to the atmosphere. “Radiation moves faster than we do,” said Steven Swanson, a 43-year-old American who moved to Tokyo in December with his Japanese wife.

He is staying indoors but is tempted to leave. “It's scary. It's a triple threat with the earthquake, tsunami and the radiation leaks. It makes you wonder what's next.”  
A number of major events have been cancelled. Foreign bankers, flush with money, are fleeing fast, scrambling for commercial and charter flights to other major cities in the region. BNP Paribas , Standard Chartered and Morgan Stanley were among banks whose staff have left since Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

Thousands of people desperate to escape the crisis have inundated private jet companies with requests for evacuation flights, sending prices up.

In Akasaka, packed with office workers, sushi restaurants and noodle shops, streets were quiet even into the night when the area transforms into a neon-lit entertainment district.  People stocked up food, milk and other supplies, emptying some shelves at convenience stores and supermarkets. Some residents towed suitcases. Many showed up at nearby airports without tickets, hoping to book flights out of Tokyo. "