Japanese head home with fear and everyday worries

Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:58pm EDT
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By Xue Jianyue and Ivana Sekularac

SINGAPORE/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Unnoticed in the crush of foreigners scrambling to leave Tokyo on extra flights is a trickle of Japanese workers, foreign contractors and students returning on half-empty planes to an altered homeland.

At departure terminals in Asia and Europe, travelers waited for flights to Japan on Thursday with a mixture of fear about the radiation seeping from quake-damaged nuclear plants in the devastated northeast and the routine concerns of everyday life.

"I was terrified when I saw pictures (of the quake and tsunami) on TV. I feel very bad. I don't know what is happening there," Kenji Iwahara, 58, president and chief executive of Japan Optics Ltd, told Reuters at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.

"My wife told me she had to wait two hours in line to get 20 liters of gasoline yesterday. My main concern is recovery. I run the company and I'm concerned how people will be able to come to the office," said Iwahara, who lives and works in Tokyo.

He and his colleague Hajime Nagatsuna were on a business trip when the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami struck Japan.

Neither had immediate plans to evacuate his family, their main concerns being about the long lines in supermarkets and power cuts, mingled with the specter of Japan's history.

"My main concern is how I'm going to get home tonight because I heard that trains and public transport are not working," Nagatsuna said.

"I always have in mind Hiroshima and Nagasaki that destroyed two towns but didn't affect other towns in Japan. No one knows what might happen in the case of a meltdown of a nuclear plant and how much bigger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki it will be."   Continued...

<p>A man cooks at his home at a devastated area hit by the earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma, north Japan, March 17, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>