A New Japan

Tohoku Babies Need Milk

Readers talk about milk shortages following the earthquake. And a grand institution makes a classy exit.

A couple of readers have been in touch to talk about some of the stories emerging in Japan in recent weeks.

Asako Sotoyama, who lives in the United States, is concerned about the trouble mothers in the regions affected by the earthquake and tsunami are having getting clean water to make formula for their children. Even Tokyo mothers have had mild issues getting baby supplies, such as diapers, following the run on daily items. But the problem in the worst-hit areas is orders of magnitude greater, where supply shortages are exacerbated by fears of contamination. Other mothers are having problems breastfeeding because of the stress.

Asako and other concerned mums have been petitioning US firm Abbott Nutrition to donate supplies of ready-to-feed Similac Formula. No word on any response. There are customs issues apparently, and perhaps Abbott is distracted by its Similac recall.

Another reader, who prefers not to be named, has pointed me to one company that has risen to the occasion. This is the owner of the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka, affectionately known as the Akapuri. Back before the Ritz-Carlton and the Grand-Hyatt, and even before the Park Hyatt (setting for the film Lost in Translation), the top hotels in Tokyo were venerable local institutions: the Imperial Hotel, the Hotel Okura, the Hotel New Otani, and the Akasaka Prince Hotel (as it was then called). Japanese would use them for omiai, to impress the in-laws, or to hold their weddings. They were also popular choices for entertaining foreign guests, who would try not to gasp at the prices. (Ah, the heady days of the $15 orange juice!)

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Even before the crisis, the hotel business in Tokyo was tough, with declining demand and increasing competition from foreign chains. The Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka made the decision to close, and was to be torn down. But the Prince Hotels group, which owns the hotel, announced that they would keep the hotel open until the end of June, offering it exclusively to evacuees from the disaster-affected areas. A classy exit for a Tokyo institution.

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