HOME > Chowhound > Japan >


[Should I travel to Japan?] Food industries in Tokyo - business as usual?

(Note: We edited the title of this post to reflect the general tenor of the discussion which is whether it's appropriate or possible for tourists to visit Japan. As things start to renormalize in various parts of Japan, we expect it will also contain reports of what's up and running and what isn't. -- The Chowhound Team)

This is very likely a topic that can't yet be answered, perhaps in the coming days. Given recent events, my wife and I are trying to assess whether it is feasible or even appropriate for us to carry on our travel plans in Tokyo a week and a half away.

Naturally, as a member of this site, food is paramount on our trip and we are curious as to whether dining will be as normal following this terrible natural disaster. Will the fishing industry be business as usual or will there be a drought of top-notch seafood? Are suppliers of other foods able to reach vendors? Are restaurants, by and large, open and operating as normal?

I'm curious to hear reports as the city gets back on its feet.

(I feel considerable guilt asking such practical, pragmatic things about my holiday when there are those seriously affected by the disaster, please forgive, I don't mean to be insensitive. To those living in the area or with loved ones who are, I hope all are safe and sound)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I'm in Yokohama, and everything here is pretty much back to normal. We are still having a few aftershocks. I was in Tokyo Friday during the earthquake, and it seemed like there wasn't a lot of damage to the city. All trains and subways are currently operational in the Toyko-Yokohama area. I'm not sure if Narita is flying yet. They probably will be by then, but be sure to check with your airline first. Stores are a little empty right now, since supplies were disrupted.

    1. Japanese TV is announcing that they are going to institute planned rolling blackouts for at least the next month.

      1. It's far worse that anyone initially thought. Yesterday, all the trains and subways were operational, and generally everything was open. Today, we have had several large aftershocks, rolling blackouts, and very limited train service. The roads are packed. What is open today is closing very early to conserve electricity.

        1. French and American embassies are asking their citizens to leave the country and for tourists not to go. We are looking to leave. Probably not a good idea for you to come here until It hopefully settles down with more concrete outcome.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dingaling

            To my knowledge the US embassy has not asked US citizens to leave, but probably not a good idea to come here if you don't have to.

          2. We edited the title of this post to reflect the general tenor of the discussion which is whether it's appropriate or possible for tourists to visit Japan. As things start to renormalize in various parts of Japan, we expect it will also contain reports of what's up and running and what isn't.

            1. The State Department issued a travel warning today asking Americans to not take tourist or nonessential travel to Japan.

              1. I'd suggest just postponing your trip for a month or so. I believe a lot of airlines are waiving cancellation or changing fees right now.

                That being said, I think it is being way over-hyped by the foreign media. I don't believe there's any reason for foreign residents to return to their home countries, especially in places like Tokyo and Yokohama.

                Despite what CNN says, the nuclear plant is NOT going to be another Chernobyl. People in the USA seem to be panicking more than people here in Japan.

                1. Thank you to all for your responses. I hope recovery is swift and I look forward to the opportunity to visit in the near future.

                  1. How have the restaurants in Tokyo been doing in the past few days?

                    I read in another thread that some places have been closing earlier than usual.
                    Are people still eating out as much as before? Are chefs able to get their usual supplies of ingredients? Have the touristy areas of central Tokyo been affected by electricity rationing?

                    1. We do not at the moment have scheduled power cuts per se in central Tokyo (they do occur in the subsurbs, presumably because having them in the centre with the many businesses here would be more disruptive to the economy than focusing on more residential areas).

                      What we do have is businesses and private households voluntarily using less electricity, and as long as that reduction remains sufficient, there will be no power cuts in central areas. This will probably change in summer when everyone cranks up their airconditioning.

                      What this means in practice is that Tokyo is much darker than usual; many of the usual bright adverts / billboards / screens etc are switched off, office buildings reduce their use of electricity (eg Midtown Tower where I worked yesterday only used a third of its normal electricity in communal areas, etc.), and so on. To me personally, it makes at least the Roppongi area more pleasant... This whole episode also makes you realise how much less electricity than we normally use we actually need without running into trouble.

                      Tepco think that there will be scheduled power cuts for another year or so, not merely a month or two.

                      I do not see any problem with people coming to Japan to visit now. For some perspective, read an article by Professor Wade Allison from Oxford University on the BBC website. He teaches at my old college and according to old physicist friends of mine I studied with and whose words I have no reason to doubt, he is a nuclear physics legend, one of the most respected scientists in the world on the issue (also a specialist in medical aspects of radiation) - in other words, not exactly some pseudo expert in the pockets of the nuclear industry. I think the article is called "We should stop running away from radiation".

                      1. I would go.

                        It's important to realize that --- contrary to what is reported in Western media --- life in Tokyo is mostly "business as usual". The tsunami and earthquake-related disaster happened in another part of the country. The Fukushima nuclear power plant is so far away that any type of "explosion polluting Tokyo" is de-facto impossible.

                        Radiation in Tokyo is far below normal background radiation of most parts of the world. Water, too, is safe. In fact the aspect of your trip that will get you radiation is the international flight -- but *not* because of Japan, but simply because that's the way it is with long distance flights.

                        So: "Is it safe to travel to Tokyo?", "Should I cancel my Japan trip?", "Is Tokyo radioactive polluted?" and "Is it safe to eat Japanese foods?". The answer is: Don't worry. Still, it's of course smart to be smart: It will probably be less dangerous than smoking a cigarette, but I wouldn't necessarily drink milk or eat leafy veggies from near the plant -- but such products have been taken out of the shops anyway.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Scharn

                          To add some more on the previous posts, yes, things are pretty much normal in Tokyo; people have been inconvenienced but for the most part unharmed. To outsiders it may look bad, but a lot of that is due to Japan having such strict food safety standards. Almost all food sold in stores lists where it was produced so it is easy to avoid any potentially contaminated products. That being said, there are some changes. Some high end hotels have closed some restaurants, mostly because of a lack of customers (occupancy rates are down to 10-20% at many hotels), although in a few cases due to damage from the quake. A lot of places are closing early, mostly out of a fear of trains shutting down early, a fear mostly due to a lack of accurate information from TEPCO regarding the rolling blackouts. So a lot of the izakaya that are normally packed with salarymen are hurting for business. Ebisu beer seems to be in short supply as the supplies from Hokkaido are not getting through. And a few types of fish seem to be less plentiful especially oysters and iwashi. But there is plenty of other fish available from other regions of Japan, so no need to worry about not being able to eat good sushi.
                          The real problems are going to come this summer. Somewhere close to 20% of the electrical generating capacity for the region is gone, and it cannot be replaced any time soon. So far Tokyo has been spared the rolling blackouts. Plans are being made to install charging systems on traffic lights at major intersections and police boxes that will allow them to function for four hours or so, and once that is done the main areas of Tokyo will be going dark. So, if you are planning on coming to Japan, I would advise doing it before all that happens.

                          1. re: edozanmai

                            It's important to know that these "blackouts" are planned in advance. They affect only some of the outer parts of Tokyo. Here's a complete list: http://www.tepco.co.jp/keikaku/saibun... , and here is the schedule for the next 7 days: http://www.tepco.co.jp/images/week_sc... .

                            Bottom line: Unless your hotel in way out in suburban Tokyo you will probably not be affected, and even if so, you would know a week in advance.

                            1. re: Scharn

                              It's worth noting that Yokohama, Kamakura, and Fujisawa are all areas close to Tokyo that draw tourists and are part of the blackouts. I have no idea how that might affect sightseeing or dining in those areas. NHK reported that they will continue through the end of the year at least.

                              A couple I know have postponed their trip- which would be their first- in light of the current situation. They felt under the circumstances, it was best not to visit at this time. Judging from FB activity, my friends in Tokyo though seem to be enthusiastically doing their best to support the local wining and dining economy. In a few months, I'll join them... My father in law however is complaining about rationing of natto. One per customer at the local super.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                I can't wait to go back later in the summer!

                        2. If you have your heart set on visiting Japan, give the Kansai region (Osaka/Kyoto, etc.) and western Japan a try for all the great regional cuisine. While the shock of the Tohoku devastation is with everyone in Japan, and still dominates the news, most everything is business-as-usual, and there are no rolling blackouts because (I learned recently) western Japan operates on a separate grid from the Kanto region and the north. They can't even supply electricity from the west to the east because of that.

                          Most of my friends and relatives in Tokyo are operating with the wait-and-see approach, hoping for the best with the radiation threat. From my rough sample, many Tokyoites don't know who to trust yet since there are still some mixed messages from the government/industry, and outside media. I also know through friends who recently opened a restaurant in Tokyo, that business is really down. I hope they're able to survive this downturn. Unlike the corporate response to the gulf oil spill in the US, there don't seem to be entities in Japan that will help businesses that threaten to sink in the aftermath of the devastation. I guess my message is check out western Japan. There's so much to offer a chowhound.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: E Eto

                            Good thought, Eric.
                            I've been considering going back to Tokyo, but I've been concerned that government and industry spokespeople may not be entirely forthcoming with the information that they are providing the public. There's also the issue that even the experts are unsure of what to expect.

                            A trip to one of the other areas might be the best bet.

                          2. I am addressing this issue right now as I need to buy plane tix for my family's annual trip this summer. The family in Japan (near Ikebukuro) has suggested we wait. I have young children 3 and 6.
                            Would you send you kids to Japan for the month of August? It is very important that my kids spend time in Japan every year, but I have to admit, I am having doubts

                            I dont know, it may be equally important for them to learn about these things-the 6 year old anyway.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: AdamD

                              I wouldn't send anybody to Japan in August, any August, but that's just me.

                              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                I know :), but that is the only time my kids are free to go for more than a week. And they are used to the humidity.
                                But that is one of the family's concerns-if there are still energy issues it may effect the air conditioning use. Crazy perhaps.

                                1. re: AdamD

                                  Not crazy at all - there have already been warnings that the loss of electrical generator capacity in eastern Japan will have an effect on air-conditioning this summer. It's still a bit premature to tell whether that means turning the thermostat up by a few degrees, or whether we'll suffer through day after day of sweltering heat.

                                  1. re: Robb S

                                    Thanks. For now, we are putting off the trip. If there were no kids involved, we would probably go anyway. Oh well. Id guess that things will work out and I will get stuck paying $$$$$ for last minute plane tickets. Damn thee ANA. :)

                                    1. re: AdamD

                                      Sounds like you're making the right decision.
                                      It's one thing to go yourself as an adult, but I definitely wouldn't send my kids. They'll have a lifetime of chances to visit ahead of them. Missing one summer's visit won't matter much in the long run.

                              2. re: AdamD

                                August is really not a very nice time to be in Tokyo.

                                1. re: Robb S

                                  Difficult to imagine Tokyo without food. The best advise is to diversify and eat all kind of food, and not just Ramen please... The quote "the principal rule of art is to please and to move on'' is a brief resume of the situation, the 1st season will mark a rebirth, followed by the second, and the third. And work it to it, and ''get involve, get involve..."a James Brown. Summer is beer, zaru soba and tempura,... but is is hot, hot, hot

                              3. Any updates on the food situation? Thanks.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                                  Very busy, busy week.. Tokyo, on Golden Week, there is pikniks, quotidian eat out, ..good good food is value added on, Japanese food have been one of the less automated home kitchen robot process, more now than before... Why not Japan for a Week End?