The images that mollified the markets here in the states today were fuzzy ones of helicopters dumping water on the destroyed nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, and the statements that mollified the markets were vague assurances of progress in fighting that catastrophe.
There’s also been a general feeling that the area stricken by the triple calamities isn’t economically vital, and the market’s been banking on the idea that the nation’s output won’t be too badly crimped. So long as Tokyo’s okay things will be okay seems to be the general idea.
But the disruption to daily life in Tokyo is growing, and if daily life there is being upended, then the economic effects of the calamity can only grow. I was here on Sept. 11. Nobody fled New York City, even though many wanted to. Everybody worked through a nightmare. I have no doubt that the Japanese people will as well, but this idea that it’s a “well contained” calamity, to borrow a phrase, is starting to look just a bit silly.
Obviosuly the situation in Tokyo is nowhere near as dire as that in the north, but the capital is becoming a very chaotic place itself, as the FT’s Gwen Robinson makes clear in this post that provides a look at the mood inside one of the world’s largest cities, and one of the world’s three major financial centers :
The television showed images of enormous queues at international airports around Japan. Some people, unable to make reservations by phone, went to Narita or Haneda airports near Tokyo to try to buy tickets over the counter.
Train stations were also packed with people trying to head west, particularly expatriate families seeking to relocate to cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka near international airports.
In fact, one expat wife who was taking her children to Kyoto earlier in the week described the bullet train, normally half full with besuited Japanese businessmen and a smattering of other travellers, as a “rolling high-speed nursery,” packed with screaming kids and foreigners all fleeing Tokyo.