A Post From A Foreign Banker In Tokyo - Here Is The City Exclusive


Here's a post we've just had in from a foreign banker based in Tokyo.

'I thought I would write in to give some context about the mood on the ground here in Tokyo, and why many foreign nationals like myself are concerned about our safety and are looking to leave Japan as quickly as possible.

I don't have anything dramatic to report - I wasn't caught in the metro or forced to dodge falling debris or anything like that when the earthquake aftershocks first hit Friday (although some other expat bankers I know were), but I was thrown around my apartment a bit, and I was spooked out for a while.

When I first arrived here just over 18 months ago, my bank told me about the 'fairly remote' possibility of an earthquake, or aftershocks from one, and I remember being issued with certain protocols and instructions (I never looked at them again after they were first issued to me). The trouble is, you never really think about it actually happening, and when it does you just freeze; it's as if it's happening to someone else.

It didn't take long after the earthquake for the reports of the devastation caused by the tsunami to filter through (although the full impact of the disaster didn't become apparent until much later), and I will never forget the look of sorrow on the faces of the Japanese people in the streets of Tokyo when they realised how big the human toll from the tragedy was likely to be.

At this stage, however, there was no real sense of panic. It was only after the reports dealing with the possibility of the radiation threat surfaced that the mood rapidly changed. Toyko became gripped with fear. The look of sorrow I saw on the Friday had turned to panic by Tuesday, after the explosions swept radioactive material in the direction of the capital.

As a foreigner living in Japan, we tend to stick in our own national groupings (much more so than if we were based in most other countries, particularly those out of Asia-Pac). The Japanese people are very reserved, and although many Japanese staff clearly work at our firm, it is often difficult to get that close to them (not that they are unfriendly - not at all - but just that they seem to keep their thoughts to themselves and their emotions more in check than we do).

All that changed this week, though, when you saw Japanese people in the street and in the office nervously looking all around, as if they were trying to actually see the nuclear waste that they feared was heading their way.

'It will be difficult for you to understand', one middle-aged Japanese work colleague said to me on Tuesday (in what was the first proper non-work related conversation we have ever had). As a people, the Japanese have had to live with what happened in 1945 (the two atomic bombs), and everything we have achieved since then has been done to ensure that we never have to go through that pain again. For this (a nuclear scare) to happen in Japan is just terrible, as it has reopened many fears and many scars'. 

And it is this fear that is contagious. It has gripped the Japanese in Tokyo (and no doubt everywhere else in the country which is facing the radiation threat), and, far more than the news reports of explosions at the reactors, it is this fear that is feeding on itself and making foreign nationals feel that they should simply leave the country.

I haven't yet been able to get back home, but I'm hoping to be on a plane soon (I am on a stand-by list to get me to either Singapore or Hong Kong). I have grown to like this country immensely, and have a tremendous respect for the Japanese people, but I know it's right for me to leave (and many other foreigners I know feel the same way). Whether I'll ever come back, I just don't know. Right now, I want to go home and feel safe again. I want to see my family and stroll around my own house and backyard. It is just amazing how fragile life is, and just how easy your sense of security can be taken away.

God help the people of Japan'.

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