Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

No Tokyo: The Anatomy of a Decision

A lost vacation is nothing like a lost home, business, or family member. We understand that and are grateful that our lives can go on “as usual” here in Portland. But sadly, we made the decision this morning to cancel our trip plans to Tokyo, and I thought it might be of interest to armchair and fellow travelers to know how we came about this decision.

As you may know, we’re not timid travelers. We’ve floated down a snake-infested river in Northern Thailand on a raft made with bike tires and ten sticks of bamboo, driven to Lhasa Tibet with a cab driver harboring a death wish, and have even zip lined through the forests of Bali. We also understand the nature of television and news reporting and realize that during a disaster the cameras focus on the devastation that makes good news; never mind that ten blocks away life is pretty normal, if not quiet. So we understand that while an earthquake and tsunami damaged many parts of Northern Japan, the damage where we were going to stay in Tokyo is fairly minimal and localized.

Our first call of order was to wait and see the scope of damage. We don’t have CNN and our local TV stations have had nothing on Japan after Thursday night, but we’ve been watching the NHK (Japanese television) feed online, as well as following the Times Asia, New York Times, and reading message boards on websites such as Thorn Three which Lonely Planet moderates. Our attempt was to get first-hand, on-the-ground reporting, from travelers, locals and expats.

We also talked to friends who have traveled extensively and even communicated with Edward Hasbrouck, author of The Practical Nomad to assess how a trip to Tokyo right now would play out. Hasbrouck has a travel philosophy that we respect as well as a blog that follows The Amazing Race, where we enjoy his post-show analysis. He encouraged us to be realistic about our concerns. We’ve also emailed a contact in Tokyo for his assessment. Having traveled to Tokyo before (2003 & 2005), we are familiar with the city and the scope of difficulty of getting transportation, food and power.

Frankly, the earthquake and aftershocks are the least of our worries. After living in Los Angeles and Portland, we are no strangers to earthquakes, and Tokyo is one of the safest places in the world to be when an earthquake strikes. By cancelling, we will probably lose the money we put down for the apartment, and the opportunity to witness incredible stories of a country going through this crisis, but still we hesitated to make a final call.

Here’s what helped make our decision:

1-The nuclear issues are unresolved and not only causing evacuations but rolling blackouts throughout Tokyo. From the probable radiation risks, to the very likely disruptions to trains, food delivery, and businesses in Tokyo, much will be closed and work will be cancelled for many citizens. Two hundred thousand residents, just an hour or so outside of greater Tokyo are evacuated and need somewhere to go, and the last thing Japan needs is the three of us dependent upon them for food, water and transportation.

2-US, British and French Governments are warning their citizens to stay away from or leave Tokyo. I tend to disregard US State department warnings since they err on the most conservative side, last much longer than the actual state of emergency, and have warned citizens away from some very wonderful parts of the world. But when the French and British are concerned, we’re duly warned.

3-This would not be the vacation we thought we’d have. While that’s usually not a bad thing—the joy of travel is discovering and having experiences that you don’t expect—going into it, we know that trips out to the Ghibli Museum, Tsukiji Fish Market, and a number of day trips we thought we might take just couldn’t happen. After visiting Paris last August, where most of the businesses we wanted to visit were shut down for holidays, and recalling how that affected our stay, we understand that for now, Tokyo is not going to be its usual self.

We love Japan, revel in Tokyo and our hearts break for the tragedy the Japanese people face. We are determined to visit again, and hopefully sooner than later. But in the interim, we’re going to have to figure out something else to do next week. While our hearts are in Japan, our bodies need to find some sunshine.


Anonymous Jessica said...

This post was very thought provoking. If I had been in your position I would have made the same decision. While my heart goes out to Japan, a vacation that could lead to radiation poisoning is just too risky. Hopefully once things have settled down you'll be able to visit again, safely.

March 27, 2011 11:02 AM  

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