Hundreds of kilometres from Japan’s quake-hit atomic power plants, Takana Takegawa is stocking up on essentials.
Despite the distance, the spectre of a nuclear catastrophe looms large.
“There will be a supply shortage now.
There will not be any more meat or fish, so I bought some,” Takegawa told AFP at a supermarket in the northwestern city of Akita, her arms weighed down by two grocery bags filled to the brim.
“At first, I heard that there would not be any health concerns, but how long will this last? I would like to receive clear information,” added the 24-year-old. “As for the future, what will happen to Japan? I’m really worried.”
Although Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami did not directly affect Akita, the nuclear crisis unfolding at the Fukushima No. 1 plant had rattled many of the city’s 325,000 residents.
Shelves at an Itoku supermarket were virtually empty in a matter of hours. Mothers pulling young children by their side – but also an unusual number of men – frantically searched for that last piece of shabu shabu meat fillet or fresh tofu during the noon rush.
Onigiri rice balls were cleared out. Some shoppers wore white protective face masks, while others ran in and out of the store.
Beyond food items, nappies were high on shoppers’ lists. By noon, neither bottled water nor pot noodles could be found at the store.
Staff told families they could only buy two of any particular item – and reprimanded anyone who tried to do otherwise.
“What I’ve heard on the news didn’t make me feel well – and then it just got worse,” said a 65-year-old man who would only give his last name, Imaijimi.
“I’m very worried – the radiation is very dangerous for your health.” Fresh explosions and a fire at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, 250 kilometres northeast of Tokyo, unleashed dangerous levels of radiation on Tuesday, and highlighted the challenges of securing the facility.
Unlike the cities along Japan’s northeastern coast, Akita has not been hit by rolling blackouts sparked by the nuclear crisis.
But icy temperatures and snowfalls make the prospect of energy and food shortages quite daunting. The government has warned that panic-buying could hinder the flow of supplies to quake-hit areas in need, and most shoppers seem to have heeded this call for moderation.
But dozens of cars have formed long queues at petrol stations, amid warnings of fuel shortages, due to buckled roads strewn with trees, crumpled cars and other large debris hampering Japan’s usually rock-solid distribution system.
“We have not had much difficulty getting what we need so far, but we don’t know what it will be like in the future,” said 28-year-old Ayaru, who only gave his first name.
“I’m concerned about it. It’s scary.”