Simon Calder: Should you keep your distance from Japan?

The man who pays his way

Okinawa, an island 350 miles south-east of Shanghai and the same distance north-east of Taipei, is as close to sub-tropical perfection as any traveller could wish. Beaches and coral reefs provide aquatic opportunities in the shimmering Pacific. The main market is enchantingly scruffy and fascinating, re-supplied now and again from the gracefully idle fishing port. Inland the terrain of this 50-mile volcanic straggle will inspire the most jaded hiker.

The troubles of the rest of the world seem impossibly far away. In particular the Fukushima nuclear plant, of which neither you nor I had heard until eight days ago, is further than both Beijing and Hong Kong. Yet Okinawa will, I fear, be tainted for years – along with the rest of Japan – by the travel fall-out from earthquake, tsunami and unfolding nuclear nightmare.

In any international crisis, one of the first casualties is a proper sense of geography. To justify the invasion of Iraq, for example, the then-Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, spoke about the difficulties of finding those fabled weapons of mass destruction in "a country twice the size of France"; in fact, Iraq is one-fifth smaller than France.

Talking of the French: they were the first Westerners to send in the planes to extricate citizens from Japan in a mass evacuation. Was this needless panic after the catastrophe? From here in seismically placid Britain, it is hard to say. So I asked Chris Rowthorn, who runs tours from the glorious city of Kyoto, for his assessment of danger and disruption:

"Here in Kyoto, you would not know that anything had happened, unless you looked at the news. In fact, other than eastern coastal Tohoku [the northern part of Honshu] and some coastal areas of Hokkaido [the island beyond], it's business as usual. The places that most people travel to in Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Takayama, Hiroshima etc – are all basically unaffected."

The Foreign Office, though, urges British travellers in Tokyo to "consider leaving the area".

Being able safely to travel in Japan is one thing – justifying the journey is another. Some travellers will be dismayed at the very notion of discussing something as trivial as tourism to a nation in such trauma. And it is natural to want to give the Japanese people time to mourn the thousands who have died and begin to rebuild. Yet Chris Rowthorn says this reaction, while understandable, is wrong:

"The worst thing for people to do now would be to cancel travel plans. This country is going to take a huge economic beating from this. Simply coming here and helping support the economy would be a very direct and real form of support for this nation."

If you feel able to take his advice, I recommend a trip to Okinawa – the venue for an even greater tragedy. In the fierce fighting a lifetime ago at the end of the Second World War, 200,000 people perished on the island called "the keystone of the Pacific". More people died here than in the atomic attacks on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A hillside above the ocean carries row upon row of black marble tablets listing the dead from both sides. As the past days remind us, there is no end to human suffering. But the gentle island of Okinawa shows how tranquillity can supplant tragedy. Start making your travel plans.

The next departure from Tokyo: anywhere but here

The departure boards at Narita and Haneda airports tell a sombre story. Dozens of flights from Tokyo's international gateways are cancelled. Lufthansa has moved all its Japanese flights west to Osaka and Nagoya. And other airlines' schedules have been shaken up. Pilots and cabin crew normally spend a two- or three-day layover in Tokyo, but carriers are keen to reduce the time spent on the ground to an hour or two. So Air France is shuttling passengers to and from Seoul. British Airways is hubbing its operations in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is also the Asia-Pacific base for Air Charter Services, the UK company that has laid on relief flights all week, with planes brought in from Europe, the US and the Middle East. "It started off being 50 or 100 people at a time," says the CEO, Gavin Copus. "Then entire companies decided to move their staff across to places like Hong Kong."

Now governments are demanding mass evacuations. "The last request I got, an hour ago, was to move 8,000 people south to Singapore," says Mr Copus. May they return to Japan, safely and soon.

Suggested Topics
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
i100
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker