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A choice between flight for safety or solidarity

With no electricity, water or gas, many have been tempted to head south – but not everyone

Hiroko Yamamoto stood and watched as a crane lifted and removed the wrecked remains of a large car that the tsunami had dumped in the entrance to her business. A knee-length padded jacket covered her body and a look of quiet concern spread across her face.

"The damage is huge. There is no electricity or water or gas. I want to escape as soon as possible but I cannot," she said. "We are going to rebuild."

There were a number of business owners in this port area close to the city of Sendai juggling with the same contrasting instincts yesterday, the human desire to flee to somewhere safe and the other instinct to display a strong spirit and not to show any fear. In Japan, the latter is called 'Yamato-Damashii' or Japanese spirit and it has been on people's lips a lot in recent days. "It's a traditional thing in Japan, like Bushido – the Samurai spirit. It's from ancient times," added Ms Yamamoto. "I think it's in our DNA. It's an unconscious thing. It's passed on by our parents."

Ms Yamamoto, manager of an industrial compressor outlet, said since the tsunami had struck she had been impressed by how her neighbours had reached out to each other. In Japan's urban areas, such neighbourly spirit was often lacking, she said, and yet since last Friday people had been sharing meals, water and help. "We have become very friendly. It helps to have connections with people at a time like this."

Such a determination to help had partly inspired her to get the business going again as quickly as possible, despite the devastation suffered in this part of the country. The same was true of Shingi Suda whose company supplied rubbish trucks. All had been carried away by the massive wave. Yesterday afternoon he was going through the wrecked remains of his employees' cars, collecting knick-knacks and personal items to return to them.

He was also aware of the possible radiation threat, but as with Ms Yamamoto he had decided to stay. He knew about the 50 workers who stayed at their posts at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, battling to avert a disaster. He claimed he would have done the same thing: "I respect them. They are heroes, putting their lives on the line. I would have done the same," he said.

Across the road, the edges piled high with wrecked cars, Takashi Makabe, was hoping a similar spirit would see him and his wife through the disaster. They owned a shop that sold sea-fishing tackle and rods and rented out a boat to fishermen. But the store had been wrecked, one instance in which the sea had not been kind to them. They looked weary.

It was their practice to post an image of their customers' largest catches on the shop wall, but the room was now dominated by a white Suzuki car, which had been thrown through the window like a game fish leaping from the ocean. It had come to rest among the lead weights and fluorescent orange fishing lures. "It's not as if we want to rebuild, but we have to. It's not just the Japanese who have that spirit, many people do.".

He also knew about the 50 workers at the Fukushima plant and somehow linked their heroism with the spirit being displayed by himself and his neighbours. "I would have done the same thing had I been in their situation. If something happened and you evacuated you would never forgive yourself."

A short drive away Toshiko Sugiyama was likewise trying to get ready for work. He owned a restaurant that served Korean food. The tsunami had wrecked the ground floor and left thick mud and debris across the entrance. He and a nephew were busy with shovels. He too was staying put.

He was also aware of the nuclear workers, but made no bold claims that he would have matched their actions. He said: "Everything here is so bad for me at the moment that this is all I can think about."