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An empty Tokyo struggles for normalcy

world Updated: Mar 16, 2011 01:29 IST
The Guardian

The dimmed lights in the normally effervescent neighbourhood of Tokyo were eerily appropriate given the mood on Monday, three days into the greatest test of Japan's resilience as a nation since the second world war.

Darkened streets, petrol rationing, a crippled public transport system and empty supermarket shelves are uncharted territory for a city usually teeming with people. While rescue teams in the Tohoku region uncover hundreds of bodies and officials struggle to cool down a third malfunctioning nuclear reactor 150 miles to the north, all the capital can do is sit tight.

After the gridlock that followed the violent shaking in the city on Friday afternoon, for a moment it seemed that Tokyo would endure little more than momentary inconvenience.

But now nerves are beginning to fray after the killer tsunami and the start of the worst nuclear crisis in the country's postwar history.

"I'm very worried," said Banshu Yoshida, owner of a restaurant in Shiba. "I think the nuclear problem will be sorted out; it's the earthquakes that worry me most, particularly because we're so near the sea."

The most immediate concern for the city's authorities is its voracious appetite for power. The government has urged residents to save electricity by staying at home if at all possible and curbing their use.

The advice appears to have worked, as residents and businesses join forces in an ad hoc energy-saving drive.

With the disrupted transport system affecting deliveries, many supermarkets had empty shelves.

Chizuko Takano, a mother of two daughters, travelled 40 minutes by train in search of a mobile phone recharger and portable radio.

"There was nothing at all, nowhere," she said, after trying electronics stores, convenience stores and supermarkets. "No candles or batteries either." Takano had been foiled a day earlier trying to buy instant noodles, eggs and bread, but they had been sold out.

But she did find "wakame" seaweed which is high in iodine, believed to help ward off ill effects from radiation.