Others are fleeing – Elin returns home published in Aftonbladet on March 19th 2011

Aftonbladets’ Elin Lindqvist on site i Tokyo.

When everybody else leaves Tokyo, Elin Lindqvist returns.

She returns to the city where she was born to see her friends – and report back to Aftonbladet.

But she was almost alone on the flight last night.

It is tired, weary faces that I see around me. The plane is half full, only Japanese passengers, except for two French journalists and I. Many are wearing face masks and there is plenty of room. Nobody knows what awaits us after we’ve landed; today, or over the next few days.

I exchange a few words with three young Japanese boys on their way home. They travelled to Paris on holiday over a week ago. The Japan they left was a strong country; Tokyo a city full of lights. 8 days later, 15 000 have lost their lives in an earthquake and following tsunami and now a looming nuclear crisis is threatening the country. They are very worried; they say in unison and look down on the floor.

But they are still looking forward to going back because they want to go home, with or without the risk of radioactivity.

I remember being 17 years old and sat on a plane from Paris to Tokyo to start my adult life. I remember feeling full of expectations and love for the country where I was born and was then moving back to. I remember that it fascinated me to think that as passengers on the same plane we were all on our way to the same destination but for completely different reasons.

When I now look around me on the plane, I manage to find a similar sense of wellbeing in the Japanese company. There are many smiles and soft gestures; respect and integrity. But today it is not only the trip to Tokyo that we have in common; we also share the same fears. The pilot expresses a deep sorrow over the events in North-eastern Japan and he sends warmth to all who’ve been affected by the crisis both in English and in Japanese.

I walk up to the air hostesses in the back of the plane. We stand and chat for a long time but they want to remain anonymous because of their official role. The two hostesses in Japan Airlines suits are in their 30’s.

–          It is embarrassing, they repeat several times when I ask them how it feels to return to the situation in Japan.

I imagine that they must be referring to Fukushima, but they actually mean the earthquake and the tsunami and the people who are isolated in the cold without food and petrol. They further explain that they wish they could help those in the most affected areas. Their generation has never seen anything like this before.

–          Such a disaster, that this happened, that this hit Japan. Horribly embarrassing.

The hostesses are persuaded that Japan Airlines will soon fly food, petrol and other necessities up to the affected areas. And help to evacuate people. They would themselves be happy to fly up there.

–          We listen to the advice of our superiors, they say and smile.

I ask them if they think they get the correct information about radioactivity and they shake their heads at first:

–          Wakaranai, minasan wakaranai. We don’t know. Nobody knows.

But when another air hostess appears behind the curtains, they no longer want to address the subject.

They are on the other hand worried about the electricity shortage. A colleague on the plane has obtained permission to go back to Chiba after this flight and take her child to relatives in Hokkaido because there is no electricity in her neighbourhood.

I ask them if it isn’t tempting to stay in Europe for some time and wait the nuclear crisis out but they shake their heads. They want to go home.

–          We’re not worried about radioactivity. We are worried about one more tsunami.

Before I head back to my seat, they ask me how I feel about soon landing in Tokyo.

My heart is also on its way home, I answer.

And when we fly in over Tokyo and I look out over Mount Fuji in the sunrise everything suddenly seems unreal. I do not spot any other foreigners at the passport control or at the customs.

Elin Lindqvist

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