Over half of embassies reopen doors in Tokyo

by Masami Ito

After the March 11 quake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, many embassies rushed to temporarily close or relocate out of Tokyo. More than half of them were back in business Monday.

The Foreign Ministry said it was notified by 32 diplomatic corps that they had closed their Tokyo offices at one point since March 11. But by Monday, 18, including the corps of Finland, Mozambique, Nigeria and Kenya, had reopened their Tokyo offices, a ministry official said. The Finnish Embassy had relocated temporarily to Hiroshima but resumed Tokyo operations last Wednesday.

“The Ministry no longer advises Finns to leave the Greater Tokyo area and transfer to Southern Japan,” the Finnish Embassy’s website says, but added that it advises against unnecessary travel to the Kanto and Tohoku regions. “The embassy in Tokyo was opened since the number of Finns returning to Tokyo is expected to rise, which increases the need for customer service.”

While big missions like the U.S. and U.K. embassies have been in full operation since the temblor, many smaller ones found it hard to function due to electricity, gas and transportation shortages, government sources said.

“I think some of the embassies were unable to open because of the blackouts and lack of gas,” a Foreign Ministry official said. “It may not affect big embassies, but I heard that was the case for many of the smaller embassies.”

As of Monday afternoon, nine embassies, including those of Angola, Dominica, Libya and Senegal, remained closed while five, including the German and Swiss missions, were still in Osaka or other regions.

Some cited the unstable situation over the Fukushima nuclear plant as a reason for leaving Tokyo, but, according to the Foreign Ministry official, others needed to strengthen their Osaka operations as many of their citizens were trying to flee Japan via Kansai, where flights were more available.

An official at the Austrian Embassy agreed, saying it had not closed its Tokyo office but moved most of its operations to Osaka temporarily, mainly out of concern that Tokyo may not have sufficient electricity, and for consular reasons. Nuclear concerns were part of the reason too, the official said, but added that was “definitely not” the main reason.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Embassy, which had been recommending via its website that its citizens within a 250-km radius of the plant, including Tokyo, take iodine tablets every three days, took the page down and has announced the pills are unnecessary.