Japan: Maybe I Should Leave

Jan 06, 2015

March 14, 2011 

Around four in the morning we left the manga cafe and walked the few blocks to Tsukiji, making our way to the back of the market where the tours of the tuna auction are organized. An old security guard told us that due to the earthquake, the market was not open to visitors and no tours would be held.

So instead we walked over to Sushi Dai, one of Tsukiji’s famed sushi bars. We were the first in line, the restaurant wasn’t even open yet. Sushi Dai has one item on the menu: omakase. Ten pieces of sushi, chef’s choice, plus one of your own choice at the end. Green tea and miso soup. Truly one of the best meals I’ve ever had.


They’re used to tourists, even if the old Japanese woman who manages the place finds us bothersome.

The market was quiet that morning, quieter than the morning I first visited. We explored the stalls, this time in more detail than I did three days before. My first visit was cursory. I didn’t go inside anywhere, I just snapped some photos from the outside of a few shops I found interesting and moved on. This time was different and I was glad.

As we explored, an old man walking very slowly came up to us and, looking us over, asked “USA?” I pointed to myself and said “Yes, USA.” He gave us two thumbs up, cheered out “USA” in a very timid shout and then walked away. This was him:

Old Man

Since we had been up all night, we went back to the hostel and all fell asleep. I slept until the afternoon and when I woke up I realized how foolish I was being. I needed to leave Japan. I called back home using Skype and had my dad call the airline and change my flight. I saw how big a risk Fukushima now posed. Even without the threat of nuclear disaster, 15,000 people had just died, the country was losing power all over, food was low. They didn’t need me in the way. So I went home.

My original decision to stay came from bad information and hubris, but also from the initial appearance of normality in Tokyo. As the days progressed after the earthquake, more and more details became known. TEPCO and the Japanese government at first downplayed the risk from Fukushima but by the 14th, we knew.

Continental was able to put me on a flight the next day so I still had one last night in Tokyo. Some of our group left that day as well, heading to Osaka or Kyoto. Those of us left went out for a tempura dinner and then I did the one thing I still had time for: Tokyo’s neon jungles at night. I took the metro over to Shinjuku and let myself get lost.