TOKYO--If there's one sound you don't want to hear in Tokyo these days, it's the earthquake alarm. The two jarring chords came crashing through the cherry blossoms from a public-address speaker the other morning and sent me bounding into the street in my pajamas. The room started wobbling seconds later.
The 6.3-magnitude aftershock followed a 7.0 quake the evening before that made the skyscraper I was in feel like a ship at sea. On the 20th floor, I could sense the building sway for several minutes as it absorbed the shock waves.
I lived in Tokyo for a long time and I'm used to quakes rattling the capital. But returning after the 9.0 temblor and tsunamis that smashed northern Japan on March 11, Tokyo feels more dangerous than ever.
There have been nearly a thousand quakes in the past month, including one as I write this. Not to mention the threat from the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where radiation leaks have led Japan to rank it on par with Chernobyl on the International Nuclear Events Scale.
Some people have left Tokyo, or even Japan altogether. Fukushima differs vastly from Chernobyl, but for every scientist who downplays the radiation danger, there seems to be another who will emphasize the unknowns in the equation and play it up. It's hard to know whom to believe.
People are coping in different ways. The famous Japanese stoicism, born out of centuries of earthquakes, fires, and war, is evident everywhere as Tokyoites quietly go about their business, making sushi, holding elections, and playing baseball. But there's a pronounced sobriety in the air. … Read more