Japan is currently suffering in various ways after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami and problems at the nuclear power plants. Even with the inevitable disturbances to work that these problems cause, work—as life—must go on. And so, I left for China on Friday on a business trip that had been planned for several months. As always, I flew from Fukuoka in Japan to Qingdao in China, and I took the usual shinkansen from Fukuyama to Hakata (the main train station in Fukuoka). On boarding the train, I noticed that there were more passengers than usual and much more baggage than normal. There wasn’t any space left for me to put my suitcase, so I gave it to a member of the crew to look after for me. It was obvious that many people were packing up and moving south.
I’d thought that there were a lot of people on the train, but that was nothing compared to the situation I found inside the terminal when I arrived at Fukuoka airport. The place was so crowded; it looked as though the airport’s computer system had crashed leaving everybody unable to check in. However, everything was fine, and it was simply just very busy. Instead of the normal mix of nationalities and high percentage of businessmen, Chinese families accounted for a majority of the people. Every flight was fully booked.
The lady that was next to me while we lined up to check in and the mother (who was with her young son) that sat next to me on the plane both explained that they were returning to China “just to be safe” after having lived in Japan for 20 years.
My conversations with both these people were almost identical. When I explained that I was on a normal business trip and would be returning home to Japan in a few weeks, they just stared in disbelief that I would be going back to such a dangerous place. When I arrived at the airport in Qingdao, we had to walk through a radiation detector before being allowed to proceed to immigration.
When I arrived at the office and was met by the staff, it was clear that everybody was imagining a situation far worse than that reported by the media in Japan. While there is no denying that the situation with the nuclear power reactors in Fukushima is indeed serious, the most surprising part of the week was seeing the overreaction caused by the exaggerated reports in the foreign press.