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Japan earthquake: The aftermath

Policemen look on as commuters wait for train services to resume at Tokyo's Chofu station on March 14, 2011 as rail services around the capital were disrupted due to energy blackouts.

Kai Ryssdal: There's no gripping way to try to set up the news from Japan today. The pictures and videos we all saw over the weekend have done that already.

Marketplace's Rob Schmitz is in Tokyo for us, got there overnight. Hey Rob.

Rob Schmitz: Hey Kai.

Ryssdal: So it is, as we speak, the middle of the night. You have just arrived in Tokyo. Give me a sense of how things are going, what's it like there?

Schmitz: Well the first thing I saw when I got out of customs at the airport was this enormous line of people that seemed to go on forever. It took me about 10 minutes to walk the length of it. And just listen a moment to the police officers patrolling this line.

Policemen talking to crowd

Schmitz: So I followed one of the officers to the front of the line and I realized it was a line for the express train that usually whisks passengers from the Toyko-Narita aiport into the city. It usually takes about an hour, and this was not the case today. The train was completely shut down and a slower one is barely operating. But the folks in line didn't really need the police there. What's interesting is that the Japanese have this strong sense of dignity in times of crisis like this, and the line was pretty orderly.

Ryssdal: What's your sense there, Rob, about how people feel about how the government's handling things overall?

Schmitz: Well I think folks that I've talked to so far are a little confused about some of the mixed messages regarding some of the nuclear reactor stuff. But another thing that people are even more worried about are the supply chains, because you know, I talked a little bit about when I was at the airport, I actually decided to buy a ticket for a bus because I wasn't going to wait in that line for a train. I called my friend in Tokyo while I was there at the airport, and she told me that food was running out in Tokyo, and that I should buy some food at the airport. And that was just mind-boggling to me -- this is Tokyo. So I called another person I knew in Tokyo to do a reality check on that, and he confirmed it. He told me that his local grocery stores, which in Tokyo tend to be these mom-and-pop stores, he told me that all these stores are running out of bread and rice. In fact, when I tried to buy something to eat at Narita, almost the entire menu was crossed off at the restaurant I went to, and all they had were hot dogs. So here we have one of the largest, most-developed cities on earth, famous of its food and efficient transportation, and both of these things are starting to run on empty.

Ryssdal: And it's a quite a ways from Sendai, the area hardest hit. Are you going to try to get up there?

Schmitz: I'm going to try. But here's the problem: the people that have tried in the recent day or two, have run out of gas. Many journalists are stuck between Tokyo and Sendai because their drivers couldn't find any gas. Gas is being rationed throughout the country, as is water and electricity. These are the things that make an economy tick, and in Japan, they're running out. And that means the entire supply chain that serves not only the northeast of this country where it was hardest hit, but the other big cities in this country, is being cut off.

Ryssdal: Rob Schmitz in Tokyo for us today. Rob, thanks a bunch.

Schmitz: Thanks Kai.

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.
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Hard or impossible to find in Tokyo: bottled water, toilet paper, tissue paper, bread, gasoline, kerosine - but if a reactor goes it really won't matter!

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