March 31, 2011 / 2:35 PM / 7 years ago

Bars empty in lonely city near Japan nuclear accident

FUKUSHIMA CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Daylight is fading in Fukushima, and Futoshi Sato is resigned to another cold and tiresome night seeking customers in a city where nobody wants to go drinking any more.

The 26-year-old stands on a shop-lined road trying to hand out flyers for his nearby bar. But few people in this northeastern Japanese city, just 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant, want to linger in town.

Trains are still not running from the local station after the earthquake and tsunami that savaged north Japan this month, forcing commuters into long queues for buses to make it home at night. Then there are the fuel shortages and fears of radiation.

“It’s very lonely. During the day, it’s still crowded, but at night no one is walking around,” Sato said. “Fukushima was a city where people would go out drinking, but not now.”

In the world’s worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, the nuclear plant continues to leak radiation three weeks after it was battered by the magnitude 9.0 quake and ensuing tsunami.

The government and plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, have conceded there is no end in sight to the crisis.

While the people of Fukushima soldier on, bar owners and restaurant employees wonder how much of a future they have.

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The government is not doing enough, grunts 61-year-old Shigeru Matsuura, who along with his son runs a ramen noodle shop down a narrow street not far from the train station.

“Do you know Kan’s nickname?” he asked, referring to Japan’s under-pressure prime minister, Naoto Kan.

“No Action, Talk Only.”

Matsuura cuts off thick strips of simmered pork that will later garnish the deep bowls of broth and noodles.

But he has stopped selling the pan-fried dumplings that are a mainstay of ramen shops. Too many customers were concerned the vegetable filling might be contaminated.

“Everyone is worried so they go home early and don’t want to leave their houses,” he said about the radiation.

On his street there are plenty of bars, but perhaps as many as 30 percent will have to close down if business continues like this, he reckons.

Japan was once a paradise for all-night revelers: some bars and restaurants would stay open until 5 or 6 in the morning, accommodating university students, part-time workers and suited businessmen who had missed their last train.

Now, even places that have reopened after the earthquake are closing earlier to conserve energy, a trend that could continue as the failed Fukushima reactors means a drop in power supply.

Department stores and supermarkets are also closing earlier, making it tougher for bars and restaurants to pull in customers for a quick drink or coffee before heading home.

Even Paseo Street, Fukushima’s central entertainment strip, is morosely quiet. Inside one Mexico-themed bar and restaurant, the number of customers is the same as the number of staff: two.

The tsunami and earthquake disrupted distribution in this part of the country, making it harder to get food and fuel.

The few customers that come to the restaurant do so to eat, not knock back margaritas.

“Of course it’s hitting our revenue. Customers are ordering food now, rather than alcohol,” said Akio Yasuda, the manager.

Even on the weekends, the restaurant now draws about a tenth of the people it did before the earthquake, he said.

In the narrow unisex bathroom in Matsuura’s ramen shop, he has tacked a letter to customers on the wall. In flowing calligraphy it reflects what he says is the spirit of the Japanese people.

“The Japanese people can survive anything,” the letter says.

“We can survive this if we come together and work with each other.”

Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Magnowski

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