Our Man in Japan

Empty streets in Tokyo. PHOTO: Albrecht Stahmer

It so happens that Albrecht Stahmer, a UK grad who has been working with J. Bruce Miller on drumming up excitement about bringing the NBA to Louisville, lives in Tokyo. And many of his associates here are concerned about him. And they want to be sure he makes it to the YPAL event March 31 — “Why Not Louisville — The NBA and Louisville” at Patrick O’Shea’s downtown March 31.

I’m hoping Albrecht doesn’t mind, but I thought it would be good to share his report on the current situation over there with you. I like the way he inserts some humor into what seems to be a dreadful situation.  Let’s hope he gets back to Louisville soon. Here’s his report:

Earthquake: First of all, the earthquake was in northeastern Japan, just over 200 miles/300km north of Tokyo near the city of Sendai. I am in central Tokyo, where there was almost no damage, although we definitely felt it!

All in all, it was violent and almost made me poop my pants, but the damage was very limited. Tokyo has the best anti-earthquake building technology in the world, and I now have extra boxer shorts.

Food & Water: There is definitely panic buying but enough things to eat that I’m not worried about this at all. I bought some food and plenty of water yesterday. Plus, I need to drop a few pounds.

Security: Aside from my friend Edwin, I don’t know of any looting. Tokyo is eerily quiet but, as usual, incredibly safe.

Nuclear Reactors: I suppose your guess is as good as mine on this one. There is a lot of hyperbole and conflicting information out there, but as far as I know, Tokyo is safe as of right now. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is more than 125 miles/200km north of Tokyo so I’m out of the immediate zone of any danger, which according to the Japanese government is 20 miles/30km. Of the facility’s six nuclear reactors, four have experienced problems. The housing vessels of reactors 1, 2 and 3 blew up and the housing vessel of reactor 4 caught fire, which complicates the ability to cool the reactors themselves. But at this point, no reactors have actually melted down, although reactor 2 may have experienced a ‘partial meltdown event’—whatever that means.

There is some trace nuclear radiation in Tokyo, but not enough to impact human health according to Tokyo University experts. As long as the winds keep blowing northeasterly, we’ll be safe here. While TEPCO’s (Tokyo Electric Power Company) track record is suspect in terms of corporate ethics, honesty and responsibility, they seem to be handling this event better than expected. As for the Japanese government, they are doing a much, much better job of communicating and releasing information than after previous disasters, such as the 1985 JAL crash or the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

Ultimately, I’m in no danger of turning green or growing a third ear for the time being.

Evacuation: The U.S. Embassy is more or less useless, as usual, and following their usual modus operandi: when crisis strikes lock the doors and go home. Their position seems to be that Americans should avoid non-essential travel and reduce power consumption, which I deduce to mean that there is no evacuation request for Americans in Japan and we should stay put. My immediate plans are to stay in Tokyo until at least tomorrow.

I had already planned on flying up the northern island of Hokkaido this weekend for three days of snowboarding so I might try to head up there early. Hokkaido should be far enough north to be out of any danger zone, as long as the winds don’t shift.

As for leaving Japan, keep in mind that the international airports are overwhelmed and experiencing significant delays so actually getting a ticket out is almost impossible right now. However, I will start making backup plans and should I leave I have plenty of options in Asia-Pacific: Singapore (thanks, Darby!), Hong Kong (thanks, Coop!), Taipei (thanks, Abby!), Sydney (thanks, Liz!) and Dhaka (uhhh, thanks, Syrve—although making a week’s supply of illegal mint juleps in the bathtub does sound enticing); Okinawa is also a possibility (thanks, Carl!).  Thanks to all of you who are offering up places to stay!

Contact info: Mobile phone service is working in Tokyo but can be sporadic right now. My Blackberry has been inundated with messages and calls and sometimes crashes so my response time can be delayed. I have internet access so you can contact me by email and/or Facebook. (Kelsey and Shelby: Thanks for getting Anne signed up!)

Thank you! Thank you for all of your messages, thoughts and prayers. Moral support is certainly critical in any emergency, but as my friend Ken says, ‘praying don’t lay brick’. So if you feel so inclined and are in a position to do so, in addition to your thoughts and prayers, please feel free to make a contribution to the International Red Cross/Red Crescent or any other agency that is providing aid and relief to the victims of Northern Japan (I already contributed to the Red Cross). And if you’re really motivated and have the time and resources, you can come and volunteer when reconstruction efforts are under way in a few months (like Kyra and Edie did in Haiti). Thanks again!

Keep in touch!