Tokyo Residents Worry About Quake's Hard-Hit Areas

Japan's northeast coast is the area hit hardest by Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami. But the lives of Japanese across the country are being affected, and the capital is no exception. Residents there are worried about the nuclear accident but are also concerned about their fellow countrymen in worse-hit areas.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And we're mostly following what's happening in Japan's northeast coast, which of course, was hit hardest by Friday's massive earthquake and tsunami, but people throughout Japan are being affected even as far south as where Richard Harris is in Tokyo. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN: Prime Minister Naoto Kan began his morning press conference by warning people that what he was about to tell them was unsettling. He then detailed the damage at the Fukushima nuclear plants and ordered people living nearby to evacuate.

Prime Minister NAOTO KAN (Japan): (Japanese spoken)

KUHN: We will make every effort to contain the damage, he pledged. I know this disaster makes every Japanese person anxious, but I sincerely ask you to react sensibly. I make this request of every citizen.

Here in the capital it's hard for residents going about their daily lives to ignore the crisis unfolding further up the east coast. Aftershocks jolt sleeping residents awake. The stock market has nose-dived for two days in a row. The power company that runs the Fukushima plant began rolling blackouts today, mostly in Tokyo's suburbs. And panicky citizens have emptied supermarkets and convenience stores of instant noodles and batteries.

A retiree who identified himself only as Mr. Niki(ph) said he had made three disappointing trips to the supermarket to stock up on staples.

Mr. NIKI: As for water I don't mind, because I can use the city water. But as for bread, I'm quite worried about, but Japanese can live without the bread if there is rice.

KUHN: Empty bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir sit outside a French-style bistro in the upscale Minato district. Manager Hiroshi Watanabe(ph) puts a sign in his window saying the lights in his restaurant are low to save power on orders from his district government. He says his business is down by half since Friday's earthquake.

Mr. HIROSHI WATANABE (Restaurant Manager): (Through Translator) Trains aren't running regularly, so my customers who come here can't get home. Also, some companies are asking their employees not to come to work. But more importantly, people aren't coming because when they think of the quake victims, they're in no mood to eat, drink, and be merry.

KUHN: Watanabe adds that he's worried about the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. Local media reported that the wind was blowing radioactive material in Tokyo's direction and that radiation levels in the capital were higher than normal although not a serious health hazard.

For at least one prominent Tokyo resident, the disaster has cosmic and moral implications. Shintaro Ishihara is governor of the capital. He raised some eyebrows with these remarks about the earthquake at a press conference yesterday.

Mr. SHINTARO ISHIHARA (Governor of Tokyo): (Through Translator) The character of the Japanese people is selfish. The Japanese people must take advantage of this tsunami to wash away their selfish greed. I really do think this is divine punishment.

KUHN: Ishihara has a reputation as a devotee of the Shinto religion and also as a right-wing nationalist. While his remarks may have attracted controversy, a calamity on this scale is bound to occasion some serious soul searching among many Japanese.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Tokyo.

MONTAGNE: And now let's follow up on a story from last Friday. Right after the earthquake and tsunami struck, we spoke with reporter Lucy Craft in Tokyo. She told us that she hadn't been able to contact her son who's at school in northern Japan in an area that was hard hit. We're happy to report that Lucy did reach her son and he's fine. She said that his area was waterlogged, but that he, as Lucy put it, hunkered down in his dorm room with soccer team mates.

And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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