Should you stop traveling to Japan?

⏱ 3 minutes

Starting March 11, tragic events occured in the Tôhoku area, north-east of Japan :

  • the country was hit by a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake at 2:46PM on March 11
  • it was quickly followed by a destructive tsunami which reached up to 128 feet high (39m) on some coasts of the Miyagi area
  • Fukushima nuclear power plants have been undirectly hit by the wave and created threats of radioactive fallout

Japanese people are crying tens of thousands of dead and wounded. On top of that, the drastically decreased number of tourists which Japan has come to deal with ever since, is gradually becoming a problem for the government. There has been a whole lot of information given by western media, and everyone has come to forge his/her own opinion about whether it's still safe to go back and travel to Japan. Fear of earthquakes and tsunami tends to be overtaken by a nuclear psychosis since Fukushima nuclear plants are giving its operator TEPCO a pretty hard time.

Given its geographical status (a group of 4 large and a bunch of small islands), Japan has come to know how to deal with earthquakes anyway. Buildings are erected with efficient security and "only" a few dozens of Japanese died from it on March 11. Most drowned in the big wave - the tsunami, which statistically occurs one in several decades. Disaster or not, earthquakes are part of Japan and you shouldn't be afraid of them for the most part. I mean, not more afraid of earthquakes since what happened last month. It's likely you'll feel even a very small one each time you travel to Japan anyway.

Radiation leaks should be more frightening for most of you and it's hard to determine its long-term effects indeed. Workers at TEPCO are currently working with the help of the japanese government to contain any radiation leak from the Fukushima nuclear plants. There has been a few during the first days after the event but measures have shown that, outside the evacuation zone, those leaks could never have cause any threat to human health (evac. zone is 18 miles around Fukushima nuclear plants - FYI Tokyo is 150 mi. south of them).

Let me be more specific and lean on scientific facts to prove that.

According to Wikipedia, the sievert (Sv) is the International System of Units of radiation dose. Milli-sievert (mSv) is a thousand times less than a sievert, and a micro-sievert (µSv) is a million times less. The dose is generally measured per hour or per day. There is absolutely no effect on the human body if one receives a daily dose 250 mSv or less (91.25 Sv/year).

In fact, radiation is a natural phenomenon and everybody receives doses all the time. According to the United Nations Scientific Committee, the world average dose is 0.27 µSv/h. But some actions infligate a much more powerful dose, such as :

  • mammograms: from 2 to 5 mSv depending on the equipment
  • smoking 30 cigarettes a day: 13-60 mSv/year
  • New York-Tokyo flights for airline crew: 9 mSv/year
  • total average radiation dose for Americans: 6.2 mSv/year

Now, with all those scientific explanation, let me point out one more figure : the maximum value Tokyo ever received since March 11 is 0.5 µSv/h (on March 15). That is to say 20,000 times less than any possible threat to the human body. You can bookmark this page on Japan National Tourism Organization website to check the daily radiation monitoring map of Japan.

So yes, some big cities of Japan may have less public lighting for the next few months to save the electricity. And yes, there may be less AC this summer. But Japan didn't fall 🍁 apart because of these events, as tragic as they were, and the country will rise up once again. IMHO praying for Japan isn't helping them whereas visiting and spending money through tourism is. So if you want to help Japan, keep on traveling to this magnificent country where you'll always be very welcomed !

Updated on January 11, 2021 - Faut-il éviter de partir au Japon ?