OSAKA — There is brisk business on Monday’s bullet trains from Osaka to Tokyo, another sign the capital city is slowly easing back into a more normal routine.
Many offices and stores are expected to reopen Tuesday, coming off Monday’s public holiday. Several retailers including Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and Gap were closed for the three-day weekend while department stores were open for business. Foot traffic in Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday was lighter than normal but there were plenty of folks out and about, braving the occasional but still-recurring aftershocks of last week’s 9-magnitude quake. Monday’s rainy weather didn’t seem to encourage shoppers, which seemed to be fewer on the ground. Meanwhile, life in Osaka, some 250 miles west of Tokyo, was bustling with activity as shoppers made their way down major shopping strips like Shinsaibashi.
Although northern Japan’s earthquake and ensuing tsunami’s death toll continues to climb — at last count those dead or missing was more than 20,000 — television channels are no longer broadcasting 24-hour disaster coverage and have reverted back to their regularly scheduled programs. Workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plant appeared to be making progress in terms of slowly cooling down the reactors, albeit the situation could take months to fully resolve itself. There were fresh reports of smoke emerging from the reactors. Monday, a Louis Vuitton customer service representative confirmed that the brand’s Tokyo flagships in Ginza, Omotesando and Roppongi, which were shuttered all weekend, will resume business tomorrow. Similarly Gucci will reopen its Tokyo store, as well as those in other parts of Japan except its boutique in Sendai, the area the quake struck. A Marc Jacobs Japan spokesman said operations — except its Sendai store — will resume Tuesday.
Hennes & Mauritz is clearly taking a more conservative approach to resuming operations. Last Thursday, it announced it was temporarily relocating its Japan operations to Osaka and it was closing all its stores in Tokyo and the surrounding area. An H&M spokeswoman said Monday that the fast-fashion retailer is still performing safety checks and it still doesn’t know when it will be able to reopen them.
Fashion houses and companies will still need to contend with rolling blackouts amid a power shortage. The blackouts are limited to the outer regions of the city but they disrupt train lines for commuters into Tokyo, which can complicate life for store staff and other employees.
As reported, many foreign firms are moving their employees out of the Tokyo area by temporarily relocating them to Osaka or sending them out of Japan altogether. Most recently, Hermès confirmed that it has flown seven expatriate members of its Japanese division back to their home countries. Also of note, Gucci’s headquarters in Tokyo is scheduled to reopen Tuesday but the brand is setting up some “core functions” in its Osaka office as a backup, a spokeswoman said.
Some fashion folk opted to stay in Tokyo and work.
Japan Fashion Week, which was supposed to take place this week, was cancelled, but a brand called Etw Vonneguet has decided to break with the pack and show its fall-winter collection on Tuesday.
“People assume all the shows are cancelled, so we’re trying to get the word out. I hope on the day there will be as many people watching the show as usual,” said the brand’s designer, who goes by the name of Olga. “We’ve been planning this for a while now and there are many people involved who are looking forward to it. I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
Japanese fashion magazines are also forging ahead. Nagisa Munezane, who works in the editorial department of Sweet magazine, said the magazine has run into a few problems because some of the talent agencies it works with for models, photographers and hair and makeup artists have been closed this week. As a result, it’s had to look elsewhere to staff certain jobs but it is going forward.
Condé Nast gave Vogue Japan employees the option to work from home last week but many of them came into the office anyway.
Jason Coates, an Australian who runs a showroom called H3O, said the idea of leaving Tokyo is unthinkable. He said he had many business appointments today and many booked for next week. His business brings emerging designers to Japanese retailers.
“To be honest, the thought of leaving Tokyo never occurred to me, despite the fact that everyone I have ever met has urged me to leave through Facebook and e-mails. For me, it’s not evacuation, it’s abandonment,” he said. “While my business is small and some might say niche, to me it’s essential to keep Tokyo’s industries running. To just stop working is to give in and let Tokyo and Japan falter, because of paranoia and fear.”
Meanwhile, concerns about the overheating nuclear plant in northeastern Japan are making their way to China. The country’s government has said there is little chance radioactive material from Japan’s failing nuclear power plants will have much of an impact on the mainland. Some Chinese seem concerned although not panicked.
“I think the main problem is that the Chinese people don’t trust the Chinese government, and they don’t think they are getting authoritative information,” said an employee of the state-run China Daily newspaper who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I can’t say people are panicking, but they are all worried about the radiation.”
Throughout the week, rumors have been spreading virally via text messages and on online forums, warning people not to go outside if it rains, to close doors and windows and to apply beta-dine to skin around the thyroid gland.
In coastal cities, like Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as in inland regions, Chinese have been making mad dashes to supermarkets to scoop up bags of table salt, a remedy that many apparently believe will fend off radiation poison. The salt buying even made front-page coverage in newspapers over the weekend. Consumers have been buying so much iodized salt that the government has had to step in, warning the public that downing bags of the white powder will not, in fact, ward off radiation but rather could cause other serious health problems.
In the central province of Hubei, salt prices have spiked from 2 yuan to 10 yuan over the past couple of days, according to Irene Deng, a graduate student in Shanghai who is from the province. One of Deng’s classmates said a professor had told students that she was no longer taking her newborn baby outdoors and would change her clothes each time she had been outside as a precautionary measure. Shanghai is about 1,100 miles west of Fukushima.
In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, shoppers have been limited to buying five bags of salt at a time, state media reported. In Beijing, there’s no more salt left to buy in many food shops.
“Last night, I went to Wu Mart [a Chinese imitation of Wal-Mart] and not only salt was sold out but also all of the seaweed and soy sauce,” said Andrew Xing, who lives in Beijing. “It is just so weird.”