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As Travelers Trickle Into New York, A Glimpse at Life in Japan

Friday, March 18, 2011

WNYC

Travelers from Japan trickled into New York City airports this week in the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and worsening conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. At JFK Airport, each arrived with a story.

Stephen Ossorio, 21, arrived at JFK airport from Tokyo Friday morning — one week after the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Originally from Brooklyn, Ossorio was studying business at Temple University in Tokyo for the past two years. He said he enjoyed his life in Japan, but the more he heard conflicting reports from Japanese authorities about spread of radiation from the plant, the less he trusted them.

"The last thing I heard was that it was getting out of control," he said. "Me and my friends went to Osaka hoping that if we leave Tokyo, we would be safe. But in the end, it seems like it wouldn't be."

He said he didn't know when he might return to his studies in Tokyo.

Recent travelers said life in can be eerily normal these days. Miwako Husaka, a lawyer, arrived at JFK airport on Friday after visiting her family in Japan.

She was there for the earthquake and recalled walking out of a t-shirt store onto a street in Tokyo's fashion district to watch the tall buildings all around her sway like trees in a hurricane. She and the people around her — some standing next to cars they'd just been driving and had stopped mid-street — rode it out unscathed.

Husaka said the aftermath of the disaster in the capital has been less dramatic than expected. Life goes on in spite of some periodic interruptions.

"On any given day, different areas of Tokyo have no lights, no power for three hours at a time," she said. "Generally speaking, people are affected by it, but I think it's fairly calm considering the situation."

Husaku said she and her husband did decide to cut their trip short because they were traveling with their 3-1/2- month-old son.

Tochimon Watanabe, a 65 year-old designer of robotics software, was in China when the earthquake struck. On returning to Tokyo three days later, he was struck by how his home, a modern city, was suffering food and toilet paper shortages along with regularly scheduled blackouts. At his wife's request, he brought bags of rice from China.

He said Tokyo streets are clogged with traffic because electric outages are making the trains unreliable. But he believed life in Tokyo had stabilized enough to allow him to fly to New York on Friday. From the airport, he was headed to New Jersey, where planned to run a marathon. He'd started training for it months ago, he said, before everything changed.

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