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TOKYO — Aftershocks from the 8.4-level earthquake that hit northeastern Japan continued into the evening here as hordes of people made their way home by foot with train service still suspended. Tokyo, and Japan as a whole, is highly dependent on public transportation and people often live very long distances from where they work. The scene at Shibuya station, one of Tokyo’s biggest, was chaotic. Seemingly endless lines formed at bus stops and taxi stands, as well as pay phones, since cell phone service has been disrupted.
In Shibuya, school kids and office workers were stranded and turned to convenience stores for food or as they tried to figure out how to get home or find a place to stay for the night. Some bought bikes at Tokyu Department Store as a last-minute means of transport. Many of the big retailers, including Seibu department store, Zara and Coach, closed their doors early for the quake, while smaller boutiques and restaurants remained open for business.
Similarly, retailers closed their doors early in the Roppongi Hills shopping complex. Oddly, the Sportsac store in Harajuku forged ahead with a cocktail event at its store as commuters streamed past.
Isetan in Shinjuku closed its doors at 6 p.m., two hours earlier than normal.
“We are hoping to open as usual tomorrow, but the most important thing is safety, so we’ll look at the situation tomorrow morning and make our decision at that time,” said an Isetan spokeswoman.
An H&M spokeswoman said, “We evacuated all customers when the first [aftershock] hit. We tried to open again 30 minutes later, but aftershocks continued so we decided to close all downtown stores then. All shopping mall stores are closed, as well. We plan on business as usual tomorrow unless it continues tonight.”
Richard Jerram, an economist with Macquarie Research, said there are noteworthy differences between this quake and the one that hit Kobe in 1995 when considering the potential macroeconomic impact.
The Miyagi Prefecture, which is home to Sendai, the city the most affected by the quake, accounts for 1.7 percent of Japan’s population and the same proportion of gross domestic product, while Kobe made up almost 4 percent, Jerram wrote in a report. He said the damage seems less extensive than that of Kobe and Japan’s disaster response systems have improved since the Kobe quake.
Still, he warned that there are some risks. “There are two basic economics-related concerns. The first is that the fragile economic cycle is not in a position to withstand significant disruption. The second is that the combination of a softer economy and the additional strain on public finances will put upward pressure on bond yields,” he said.
But he went on to add that many Japanese companies have reportedly diversified their supply chains after Kobe so the economic impact should be better. He also stressed that the damage in Tokyo seems minimal.
Much of the damage is concentrated in an agricultural part of the country. TV news anchors in hard hats delivered frightening images of water sweeping away homes and piling up cars and buildings catching fire. People on Twitter were claiming that the outer wall of the Sakurano department store at Sendai station had collapsed.
The damage in Tokyo seems slight in comparison, although the top spire of Tokyo Tower, an orange Eiffel Tower-like landmark, bent slightly.
Brian S. Salsberg, principal with McKinsey & Co. Inc. in Japan said the weekend will be a mixed bag for retailers. “I think you will see a spike in sales of earthquake kits and helmets. Grocery stores will do well in the next week. Luxury goods companies will have a tough weekend,” he said.
Also from Salsberg on the longer-term impact for consumers: “People have short memories. Assuming no major aftershocks, this event alone should not have a long-term impact.”
Meanwhile, the Tokyo edition of Kobe Collection, a big consumer fashion show targeting young women, has been canceled. It was supposed to be held Saturday.
One of the retailers, Don Quijote, a quirky novelty department store, in Roppongi is not letting people inside, but staff is selling things like comfortable shoes, warm socks and heat pads to people who request them. Many people have very, very long walks ahead of them.
Helicopters can still be heard overhead.