Tokyo: Frustration, Fear and Fierce Resolve

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JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

The shutdown of several nuclear reactors after the earthquake has led to schedule power outages in Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan's capital city and a global financial center, was untouched by Friday's killer tsunami, but it has not emerged unscathed.

First, there is the physical stress on a metropolis accustomed to some of the most modern and efficient public services on the planet. Besides the recurring aftershocks, and shortages of food and gasoline, Tokyo's residents are living with daily disruptions sparked by rotating power outages, the first since the Tokyo Electric Power Company was set up in 1951. The cuts are caused in part by the crippling of several nuclear reactors — nuclear energy generates nearly a third of Japan's electricity. Commuter train services, crucial to getting people around the sprawling city and its suburbs, have been either canceled or reduced. People can't go to work and students can't go to school.

Complaints are mounting about the lack of organized and accessible information. Minako Ono, who lives in the Tokyo suburb of Kichijoji, checked her city website Sunday night and learned that her area's blackout would begin at 6:20 a.m. Monday. "I woke up at 5 a.m. and got everything ready, then logged onto the website again to find out that it will be from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. "I won't be able to cook dinner or do anything without any power," she said. "We bought a few candles but my kids can't imagine how we will cope. I know they'll be scared."

There is also nervousness that radiation leaks from the reactors in the northeast will reach Tokyo. Two European embassies, France and Luxembourg, have advised their nationals to leave the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo. Many think the government is downplaying the danger from the reactors. "The nuclear power plant disaster reminds me of World War II when we didn't get enough information about what was really going on," said 79-year-old Noriko Wada. "The government only gave the information it wanted to and people needed more details."

Still, Tokyo's residents realize they have it easy compared to the terrible suffering of people in the country's hard-hit northeast. Many feel frustrated at their inability to reach relatives in the tsunami zone, or help the stricken. "I really want to get up there and help, but the airports are closed and the trains aren't running," says Maroi Shoji, a 40-something consultant. "I'd rather give my food to the sufferers than eat it myself." Masako Suzuki, a housewife in Tokyo's Setagaya ward, wonders how survivors will recover: "The rice farmers and fishermen have lost everything. Most of them are not young and can't easily switch jobs. How will they manage?"

In all likelihood, they will manage by drawing on the resilience and community spirit they've have shown through repeated trials over the decades. "We don't have many natural resources but we get over our problems," says 83-year-old Hideko Maeda. "We're the only country hit by nuclear bombs, and managed to recover. We recovered from the [1995] Kobe quake and we'll recover from [this] disaster." It's not just the elderly who feel this way. Mamiko Shimizu, a 24-year-old graduate student, says, "We, the young generation, will unite and work hard to get over this tragedy. It's now our time to rebuild Japan."