Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why I'm Still Travelling To Japan

Since the horrific earthquake and tsunami of 11/3/11, my twitter followers have indulged me as I retweeted news from Japan - and little else. I've followed the rapidly-changing situation very closely, primarily thanks to tweets from English-speaking bloggers and reporters in Japan linking to key articles (see my Twitter list of them), and live-streaming broadcasts of English-language Japanese news (primarily NHK). The contrast between their common-sense approach and the sensationalism (even alarmism) of reports in the North American press has been astonishing. (It makes me seriously question the calibre of the other everyday information we get.)

A few friends and family members have asked if we have cancelled our trip yet. No, we haven't, and we have decided we won't, unless the situation dramatically changes. Here's why:

1. We are not travelling to the areas hardest hit by the tragedy. The farthest north our itinerary takes us is Tokyo, which is no longer experiencing rolling blackouts or supply-chain-related food shortages. The more southerly cities of Kyoto and Hiroshima felt the quake, but were able to carry on with everyday life as usual, and have not experienced blackouts (they're actually on a separate grid from the north). Most business travellers have been advised to reschedule their trips to Tokyo for the end of April, so our mid-to-late-May trip should be fine. Our advisor at JTB Canada has indicated that we may experience some minor inconveniences (such as changes to train schedules), but nothing compared to the inconvenience of changing all our plans.

2. The situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors has stabilized, although the news from the nuclear power plant continues to be troubling. Since we were not travelling within the 30km (Japanese) / 80km (for US residents) evacuated zone, and foodstuffs and water in Japan are tightly regulated, I doubt we could be exposed to fission products in quantities sufficient to endanger our health. (If I want to worry about mutagens in my food and my everyday environment, I can think of lots of more likely culprits, starting with the new-car-smell that's offgassing from the rental vehicle I'm driving while my own car is repaired. Also, I worked with isotopes for years as a medical researcher, and probably got way more rads from P-32 spills by a certain sloppy grad student than I possibly could on this trip.)

3. Spooked by the incredibly sensationalist reports, tourists have been cancelling trips to Japan in droves. This means that those who are dependent on tourism for their livelihoods and living in completely unaffected parts of the country will be needlessly subjected to hardship.

For what it's worth, we did come up with a Plan B (to postpone our trip for an extra few months) and Plan C (to postpone until next year, and travel to London and Paris this year instead, since we'd be able to plan that on fairly short notice). We are grateful that we probably won't have to use those backup plans.

I'm heartbroken for the communities of the northeastern prefectures and awed by the resilience of their citizens - see QuakeBook Blog for some inspiring stories and an amazing fundraiser. Please also press the "Blog 4 Japan" button in the sidebar to see how else you can help.


    Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada are currently saying:
    - "exercise high degree of caution" for Japan
    - "avoid non-essential travel" for Tokyo, its surrounding areas, and Northern Honshu - but this will likely be updated soon to be only for the tsunami-hit northeastern prefectures, since conditions in Tokyo are no longer as described in the warning
    - "avoid all travel" for the area within 80 km (50 miles) around Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant

  2. The UK and USA have both lifted their travel restrictions for Tokyo:

    "Self-restraint" blamed for plummeting internal and international tourism across Japan: