A shifting backdrop to radiation concerns, disquieting comments from a government official and an electrical flood from an errant explosion have made for a wild week in the small U.S. town closest to one of Japan’s worst nuclear disasters.
From Japan to Texas to Alaska, preparations for the upcoming month-long time hop to Nagasaki — as well as Japan itself — must be put in place. Travelers with friends and relatives in the vicinity of one of the site’s reactors should leave themselves ample time and space to leave if necessary.
Here’s what you need to know before you go:
If you do plan to visit Japan in November, you’ll first need to leave for Europe; most ticket booths in the U.S. have expired. And in Japan, airport check-in usually begins at 6:30 a.m. in Tokyo. It could take you 15 hours or more to arrive from New York to Tokyo if you can get there by train. (For a full list of what to do and where to stay, check out the U.S. State Department’s website.)
The first thing to do is learn where to get tickets. If you travel through Europe, you’ll have a few options. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower offers Air France tickets. If you’re in London, the Gherkin tower also offers tickets to three U.S. flights. Or you could explore the cheapest options here in the U.S.: Southwest and its 2-Day International package is selling round-trip tickets from New York (or by car) to either Osaka or Tokyo for as little as $470 or $540. By comparison, a round-trip ticket between New York and Tokyo on American costs $548 at this writing. If you’re going straight to Japan, the best options may be flights to Osaka via Taipei or Okinawa. North American carriers generally sell multiple itineraries as well, although flights on American from Japan to the U.S. are much cheaper and in some cases may be available on sale.
Inexpensive accommodations are also available for Japanese travelers. Try AirBnB or Airbnb, where the basic rooms (and sometimes the rent) can be available for a fraction of what you might pay if booking through a hotel directly.
SOLD IN JAPAN
Tickets for flights between Osaka and Tokyo are still available. However, tickets for flights between Narita International Airport and Kyoto and Sendai are not available.
NO MORE WORRY IF IT’S HOT OR COLD
While trains will still be running in the upcoming month, don’t cancel your flight if it is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). In April of 2011, Japanese passengers in Japan evacuated to the largest international train station in Osaka after the main tracks were damaged.
For about a month, the railway’s parking lots were used as large air cooling units, and all the air conditioning in the terminal was shut off.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
If there’s serious damage in the plant, Japanese authorities have said it could be several days before radiation is dissipated. Residents in the plant’s evacuation zone are supposed to relocate within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of a total evacuation zone. Radiation levels near the plant are expected to drop later this year.
If all that fails, nuclear experts say the safest way to get back is by car, not plane, since the evacuation zone of 20 kilometers doesn’t include the airport.
But just in case, it may be best to leave. After evacuation zone 30 was announced, a popular travel website Trip Advisor posted a message about avoiding the northern Japanese city of Niigata: “The route to Niigata is potentially lethal. Visit the city in the fall or winter for great eating and soaking in the hot springs.”
Travelers to the Pacific Northwest can do their due diligence and find out just what the transportation situation is before booking flights. Portland International Airport officials said they would adjust flight times or routes to get in more visitors in November.
The lesson is to plan ahead; if you don’t have family or friends in a region that is around the evacuation zone, then you can’t always depend on a Japanese tourist or traveler.
Despite all the publicity surrounding the nuclear disaster, about 94 percent of Americans living within 50 miles of the plant are aware of it, according to a 2016 Gallup survey. But that’s not enough to give you carte blanche for travel in Japan. On the day before the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was officially declared beyond repair, Japanese citizens in the U.S. were forbidden from traveling to the area. (G. David Solomons, United Press International)