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The video below was taken March 15 and concerns the lack of information and news about a third explosion at Fukushima (see the Wikipedia timeline). The young man in the video is frightened and concerned, as are many people in Japan, not only the foreigners.

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I do not blame him (some do, even those also  living in Tokyo like the young man in the video).

He is caught between a rock and a hard place.

  • He criticizes the TV stations for not giving more information, yet it was (presumably) the TV stations who informed him of the explosion he was frightened about;
  • he criticizes the government for not giving a statement quickly enough for him (they were presumably waiting for details from TEPCO, like in the first explosion  – “We are looking into the cause and the situation and we’ll make that public when we have further information,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said after confirming the explosion and radiation leak at the plant.”)
  • He seems to want the government to tell him what to do – should we leave Tokyo? he asks.
  • If the government did say this, would he believe them? Why? When he does not believe them because they delay their press statements, or when they tell everyone to stay calm and to stay indoors? (Actually, Kan’s recommendation to stay indoors did not refer to Tokyo residents but to those living within the 30-km-radius zone from the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor.)

Is it time to panic? Initial reports of each new development are frequently low on factual data and high on anxiety and apprehension (naturally). Should he wait for more information? Or does the silence mean the situation is beyond catastrophic and he should leave yesterday?

When is it time to move out? What are the signs? How does one decide? We know that people prefer to sit tight, hoping for the best, even when the evidence screams: ‘Things will not get better; they will get worse.'”

In an article titled Moving How Far Out?, historian and contrarian investor  GaryNorth sketches out a number of scenarios and invites the reader to imagine themselves in the following historical situations. What would you have done? Would you have spotted the danger signals and moved out in time?

  1. It is Christmas Eve 1773. You live in Boston. The tea party is over. You own a prosperous trading firm. You deal with imports from Great Britain. You tell your wife that you will sell your establishment to your rival before spring. You say that the British will retaliate. You don’t want to get caught in the crossfire.
  2. You are a Jewish photographer in Germany in 1935. Hitler has been in power for two years. You decide to get out while the getting is good. You cannot take any money out of the country. The government has imposed capital controls on Jewish emigrants.
  3. You are a Japanese farmer in California. You have just heard about Pearl Harbor.

He concludes:

The refugee leaves from. He gets out, but only when the roads are clogged and the market for property is depressed. He takes what he can put onto a cart.

In contrast, the emigrant plans an escape route before his peers think there is anything seriously wrong. They can see that there is something wrong, but they assume that it can’t get worse. They are wrong in some cases. Things get much worse.

The hard part is to accurately forecast how much worse, and then accurately forecast where things won’t get worse. Then the forecaster must put his money where his mouth is. Well, not really. He keeps his mouth shut. He puts his money where his preferred spot on the map is. Then he sells, moves, rents, and then buys.

The early bird gets the worm. Conclusion: don’t be a worm above ground at sunrise.


For most people, moving out is not an acceptable option. Relatives are nearby. Jobs are not transferable easily. People stay put. They put up with things as they are.

How about you? How bad will things have to become for you to move out? If you do not figure out ahead of time what your signals will be, it will be hard to spot them when the time comes. 

  • “If A happens, I will not go to work, I will stay home.
  • “If B happens, I will send my family away (where?)
  • “If C happens, I will move out to the safe place I have sent my family.
  • “If D happens, we will move out of the first safe place” (where to? Do you have a backup safe haven?)
  • “If E happens, we will move out of the country”. How? Will exit routes be blocked by that time because everyone else will be escaping too? When the earthquake hit Japan on March 11, the roads out of Tokyo were jammed with cars. The trains and subways were all stopped. The only transport moving was the buses. And the bicycles. Most people who commute to work don’t have bikes. They bought them then and there on the evening of March 11. The early birds got the worms. The others had to walk.

There is a tendency to screen out bad news and to pick the easy option: what is everyone else doing? Are they concerned? If not, perhaps things are ok. 

The average Joe has never sat down and asked these questions. He has surely not put pencil to paper, jotting down first-response answers. He prefers to drift along. He prefers ignorance. He fears responsibility. He thinks he can defer it. He thinks he can kick the can.

Aeroporto de Narita by Valter Figueira on Flickr

Aeroporto de Narita by Valter Figueira on Flickr

Trouble is, if you defer, you may find your exit routes blocked. You will then have to pay a premium to get out.