The flight attendants take away our breakfast trays, leaving less than an hour before landing at Tokyo’s Narita airport. I look at the flight map on the screen, and see the airplane icon hover over the northern tip of Honshu, the largest of the Japanese archipelago. The map shows Tokyo in the distance, and Fukushima in the forefront. I wonder if the airline’s flight map always showed this farming region. I wonder if it will now be an untouchable place in people’s minds, occupying the same place as Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I’m traveling to Japan to join Marco Werman to produce a series of reports on the aftermath of the triple disaster that was March 11th – the 9.0M earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear crisis. But this is also a homecoming for me. I was born and raised in Tokyo, and despite the many years I’ve lived in the United States and now in Europe, nothing feels more comforting than the sound of “Okaeri-nasai” – welcome home – upon stepping foot in Japan.
In my lifetime, there had never been a question of shortage in Japan. Electricity, produce, dairy – just flip a switch or run to the store and it was there. And although my friends and family tell me life is largely back to normal, there is a redefining of what is normal. Escalators only move during peak hours. I have to imagine people wonder about where their milk and spinach comes from.
I feel a little trepidatious about what we might see in the disaster areas. Almost three months after the quake, I hear volunteers in canoes are still salvaging personal belongings from the bay. In one town, the rubble they have collected amounts to the equivalent of 23 years of trash.
The seatbelt sign is on, and the pilot comes over the PA system. “It’s not a very pleasant time in Japan, especially in the North of the country,” he says. “But if you’re staying in Tokyo, have a pleasant stay.” I’m almost home.