REPORT FROM JAPAN: Residents react to foreigner exodus

While the list of countries advising their citizens to leave Japan grows, many foreigners are opting to stay, CBC reporter Amber Hildebrandt reports from Tokyo.

Residents sympathize with foreigners leaving, but think it's an overreaction

If foreigners want to leave disaster-stricken Japan, Tokyo university student Erina Oshima thinks that's not a bad idea.

"I think the best place to be is with one's family, and going to one's family will probably give the most peace of mind," said Oshima, 21.

"When you come from another country — I went to Canada for a short time last year myself — it can make you uneasy," said Oshima, while out job hunting near Tokyo's Roppongi Hills.

Like many Japanese, Oshima reacted sympathetically to news that the country's foreign community continues to pour out of Japan in light of the earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear crisis.

The list of countries advising citizens to leave Japan or avoid non-essential travel due to nuclear radiation fears grew to include the United States, Britain, South Korea, Australia and Germany. Canada has not told citizens to leave.

Foreigners choosing to stay weren't as understanding.

Canadian Eric Cole, who has lived in Japan for two decades, laughed at the notion that foreigners might be leaving to be with their families.

"No, we're leaving because we're scared shitless!" he joked.

Cole, who runs Tokyo-based headhunting company Cole and Company, is sticking around, but he's watched others around him skip out — including a company president who left the CEO in the lurch.

Though the Japanese might not talk about it, foreigners will likely suffer the consequences of their hasty departures from their jobs, especially considering Japan's strong work ethic, Cole says.

In the end, he says, that kind of action speaks to the person's character and makes an employer think: "So, you're going to leave the company during difficulty?"

Susumu Nakazawa, 68, of Saitama prefecture worries foreigners fears may be exaggerated. (Amber Hildebrandt/CBC)

Though some Japanese people acknowledge that foreign citizens are simply listening to their government's advice, others say foreigners' fears are exaggerated.

"The foreigners are feeling it's more dangerous than we are," acknowledged Susumu Nakazawa, 68, of Saitama prefecture.

Cole says the heightened sense of fear may be due to foreigners consuming an "unfiltered diet" of panic-stricken Western news and worries that the domestic news isn't trustworthy.

Canadian Wilf Wakely, 61, a longtime resident of Japan and head of a Tokyo law office, was here in 1995 when an earthquake in Kobe killed about 6,500 people. He says foreigners left the country after that disaster too, but many returned.

Wakely points out that although some foreigners may be heading for the hills, others are entering the country to help with relief and reconstruction. The lawyer's been busy on the phone chatting with international companies interested in helping.

"There's going to be a rebirth, just like there was in Kobe," said Wakely, who is a member of the board of governors of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

And those who stick around might learn something about how to handle a disaster, says Wakely. He says after the Kobe earthquake he grew to appreciate the importance of working together.

"It was a great time to be alive actually," he says.