By and  on March 12, 2011

TOKYO — As Japan grapples with the terrifying aftermath of the most powerful earthquake to ever strike the country and an ensuing tsunami that killed thousands, life in the capital city is slowly easing back to normal.

Pedestrian traffic along Tokyo’s streets was expectantly light on Saturday, the day after an 8.9 quake in northeastern Japan shook buildings in the Japanese capital and stranded thousands in the city overnight. Areas such as Shibuya, Harajuku and Ginza, which are normally teeming with people on the weekend, were exceptionally quiet and many stores were closed for business. That situation changed considerably on Sunday, as the aftershocks tapered off in frequency. The number of people on the streets, many with shopping bags in tow, increased significantly. Nearly every retailer was open, with an apparent quick return to near normalcy, as couples and groups of friends browsed the stores.

“Of course, we feel terrible about the situation in Miyagi [the area the tsunami hit], but being at home watching TV was getting depressing,” said Atusko Minagawa, 26, who was shopping at Roppongi Hills on Sunday and made a small purchase at Zara. “Doing a little shopping with a friend has really improved my mood.”

Emi Nagao, who was walking around the same retail development with her husband and 4-year-old son, said, “We stayed inside yesterday, but the weather is nice today so we decided to go out. Just being outside has made us happier, especially my son. It’s good for him to be able to run around and get some exercise.”

TV coverage of the disaster dominated the airwaves all day Saturday and Sunday as death toll estimates mounted to more than 10,000, with scores more missing. Images of displaced people in shelters sleeping on mats and horrific footage of the destruction have played on a constant loop. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan addressed the nation Sunday, calling the disaster the biggest crisis Japan has faced since World War II.

The country’s attention is focused intently on serious problems at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, near the area devastated by the tsunami. There was a blast at the plant and late Sunday there were reports of a blast at a second site. Wide-ranging reports and theories abound about just how serious the radiation threat is and the situation seems to change by the minute. The government has evacuated more than 200,000 people.

Japan is also facing a serious power shortage and rationing will go into effect, with blackouts starting today. While it looks like the central area of Tokyo will not be affected, everyone is being told to conserve energy and retailers most likely will cut back on their hours. People are stocking up on supplies, pouring into supermarkets and convenience stores to buy bags of ramen noodles, bread and canned goods. The emergency goods and tool sections of the Tokyu Hands in Shibuya were mobbed with people buying earthquake kits, gloves, masks and batteries. Flashlights seem close to impossible to find in Tokyo.

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