Shelves devoid of bread and sandwiches at a convenience shop in Fukushima prefecture.
From the start, our journalists — consisting of those from the New Straits Times, Berita Harian, Harian Metro and TV3 — faced many challenges as we attempted to make our way to the disaster areas.
But the main fear was the critical condition of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, where reports indicate that Units 1 and 3 have leaked, while Units 2 and 4 had exploded, and Units 5 and 6 are showing signs of problems.
During the journey, and in order to stock up on food, we stopped at many convenience shops.
However, even in the capital city, we found shortages of drinking water, bread and other necessities.
Many had started panic-buying based on the critical situation at the nuclear power plant.
The rented blue Nissan van we took made it through Tokyo’s heavy traffic and into the Tohoku Expressway, which connects most of the country by road.
It was like a scene from a post-apocalypse movie, where the expressway was empty as only vehicles with special passes by the local authorities and metropolitan police were allowed entry.
Our van had a Japanese driver and the proper documentation, which we obtained earlier thanks to the assistance of Malaysian embassy officials.
About 30 minutes into the journey, we were surprised by the lack of civilian vehicles along the expressway.
What we saw were Japan National Police Agency and Japanese Self Defence Forces (SDF) vehicles going towards the disaster-stricken areas on the northeast of the country.
Along the way, the roads were also littered with cracks and potholes from the massive earthquake, commonly called the “Tohoku Quake”, that hit Japan on March 11.
It was a scary sight, but we were still determined to continue with our journey to the Fukushima prefecture.
Our fear was further compounded when we received numerous text messages quoting a foreign news wire report that the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant situation was critical with radiation levels at about 400 times the annual legal limit at the prefecture.
As we travelled north, the highway temperature indicated 7º Celsius to a freezing -1º Celsius when we arrived at the Inawashiro hamlet during night fall.
Mobile signals were weak and communication was also not as easily accessible as in Tokyo.
The journey from the toll exit to the hamlet took about 30 minutes through small trunk roads and we were also met with a roadblock along the way.
Inawashiro is a ski resort hamlet in Fukushima which is only 100km away from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Along the way, there were scenes of minor destruction with bent telephone poles and also cracked roads which were covered in snow.
However, our Japanese driver and guide Kaneo Hayakawa, who was calm throughout the journey, managed to take a detour and we arrived at the hotel.
“It’s a small problem and we will just take another alternate route,” said the helpful 63-year-old in clear English.
According to Hayakawa, the hamlet is considered safe as it is located away from the 30km safety radius, despite threats of a meltdown.
However, based on the critical situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant following the earlier explosions, we may have to return to Tokyo as a safety precaution.