Tokyo: Airline tickets sold out on Thursday and firms hired private jets to move staff out as foreign governments told their nationals to get out of Tokyo, fearing the nuclear crisis could escalate.
The United States, Australia and several European nations urged their citizens in the sprawling capital and the quake-hit area northeast of there to leave, but some people were trying to get out of Japan altogether.
The US State Department chartered flights for Americans wishing to flee and authorised its embassy staff and their families to leave the country, after US nuclear regulators questioned safety measures taken by the Japanese.
With experts offering contradictory opinions on how serious the situation is at the Fukushima atomic plant 250 kilometres (155 miles) northeast of Tokyo, one French businessman with operations in Japan said his company was "struggling to find a consensus".
He said if the company evacuated foreign staff, it would also have to offer passage to worried locals.
"There is a huge perception gap between the Japanese in Tokyo and the group`s management in France," the man said on condition of anonymity.
"This is not a company accustomed to working in countries at risk, so we do not know how to cope with such a situation. There is not even a crisis-management team in Paris."
China moved thousands of its citizens to Tokyo for evacuation from the country and France said it was assigning two government planes to pull its people out.
Several large Nordic companies, including IKEA and H&M, offered to help their Japanese employees leave Tokyo and surrounding areas and relocate further south.
Indian IT firms were helping employees to leave, with software firm L&T Infotech saying it had chartered a plane to take all 185 of its staff and their families out of Japan.
The International Bankers` Association said it was "business as usual" for major firms, but an exodus of foreign professionals saw demand surge for private jets, according to Asian operators.
Commercial flights were also under pressure, with just a handful of seats left on most services from Narita -- which serves Tokyo -- to Hong Kong, Singapore or Seoul.
Demand was driving the average price of a one-way ticket above USD 3,000, far higher than the normal price.
Australia`s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said it was the "breakdown of essential services" that had prompted Canberra`s evacuation warning, not merely radiation fears, with schools closed and power and transport badly disrupted.
Britain advised its citizens to consider leaving Tokyo and northeastern Japan though British officials said there is still "no real human health issue that people should be concerned about".
Germany, Italy and The Netherlands also advised their nationals to leave the sprawling capital or refrain from travelling to the northeastern region which was destroyed by the 9.0-strength quake and tsunami.
Cathay Pacific was running a special offer for people wishing to flee Japan for Hong Kong and Vietnam Airlines said it would lay on larger planes on its Tokyo-Hanoi route, offering big discounts for Vietnamese wishing to return.
Switzerland promised charter flights if commercial carriers couldn`t meet demand and Russia was to begin evacuating dependents of its diplomatic and commercial personnel in Tokyo on Friday.
Hotels were booked out in the western hub of Osaka, with foreigners and Japanese alike descending there from Tokyo in the search for accommodation and office space, including foreign embassies.