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Asia

Destination: Tokyo

For fear of nuclear radiation, many foreigners have either left Japan completely or gone further south. But there are still a lot of people who are trying to get there, like DW reporter Silke Ballweg.

TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo

Many people are leaving or have already left Tokyo out of fear of radiation poisoning

Considering the circumstances, there are better flight destinations than Tokyo at the moment. I’m sure many others were thinking the same thing on the Tokyo-bound Boeing 777. Normally the flight is sold out, but today there are around 40 empty seats. There are mostly Japanese men on board. Many are wearing a dark suit and white shirts; most of them appear as though they had been to Europe on business.

Most of the passengers are already wrapped up in their blankets right after take off. Earphones on, they stare at the screens in front of them. Some have traded their shoes for slippers. The list of films on this flight includes "Black Swan," a Harry Potter film and "The Social Network." Aside from the low humming of the engine, the cabin is quiet. That’s how it usually is on flights to Japan. But this time, the question that is on everyone’s mind is whether or not it will be dangerous to set foot in Tokyo a few hours from now.

Itsuki Kitani in the plane to Japan

Itsuki Kitani plans to teach English in northeastern Japan

Going back to destruction

Itsuki Kitani is sitting at seat 45 C. The 33-year-old is going back home to his family. But he is worried. "They say the water is contaminated. And the nuclear power plant is still out of control; radiation levels are rising day by day," he says. "I ask myself if it is safe to eat rice and vegetables or meat - what should we eat?"

Kitani is wearing dark blue jeans, a white shirt and a grey knitted jumper. He had been working on his doctoral thesis in the UK before finishing last week. He wanted to go back to his family earlier, but they told him not to. "My parents told me it would be best to stay out of Japan, so I ended up spending a week in Germany. But it appears as though things in Fukushima are getting worse by the day. And it doesn’t seem likely to get any better. That is why I have decided to go back now."

A close-up of destroyed reactor 4 at Fukushima

Images of Fukushima's dilapidated reactors have the world cringing

Kitani watched the March 11th tsunami rip through his country on English news. He says, "I cried when I saw the pictures - I had known the area where the tsunami hit very well. It was a rural area and it was so sad to see the tsunami wash over and destroy everything. There was absolutely nothing I could do so far away from home - I felt so helpless."

The seats are usually sold out

When the fasten seatbelts sign is switched off, I have a chat with one of the flight attendants. He tells me there are usually between 30 and 40 foreigners on the flight to Tokyo. But today, I seem to be the only foreigner. Even the crew is not planning on staying in Tokyo after landing. The flight attendants plan to continue on to Osaka. That troubles me and prompts me to ask myself, why am I flying to Tokyo?

Before takeoff, news segments were being shown at the Frankfurt Airport, telling of Japan’s nuclear alarm. But something else troubles me as well: I had been looking forward to meeting old friends and acquaintances - but I wonder if they will still be there. Itsuki Kitani also has a plan: he wants to go back to encourage his countrymen, because, as he sees it, "Japan has lost its self-confidence. It is depressing."

A quake survivor pushes his bicycle past mounds of rubble

More than a quarter of a million people are homeless because of the tsunami

Kitani plans to become an English teacher in the northern region of Japan, right where the last tsunami hit. He says, "I want to teach the children English – the younger generations are the hope of the older ones. I want to help them become independent and learn how to question things. They will be able to get further in the world with English and maybe some of them will be able to study abroad. I am really happy to have had my experience abroad and I want others to share it, too. That is how I plan to help."

Kitani wrote his dissertation on Percy Bysshe Shelley. Maybe the romanticism rubbed off on him - he knows he will be putting his health at risk if he goes to the disaster areas, especially if he really starts teaching near Fukushima within a few weeks, as he is planning to do. But he just laughs, saying he wouldn’t mind taking 30 years off his life, since the Japanese usually live to 100 anyway. Author: Silke Ballweg (sb)
Editor: Ziphora Robina

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