Friday, March 25, 2011

How the Tokyo Panic Started Amongst US Citizens Despite the Evidence

An insider comments about how the panic began in Tokyo for Americans. "Old news but some background you might be interested in ... how and why these stupid voluntary evacuations got started...."

How some of the panic started despite the evidence. As I indicated earlier the first Town Hall meeting chaired by the US Ambassador on the 15th was poorly executed with little real information and uncomfortable disclosures such as weak contingency plans for evacuation (eg travel vouchers were indicated in the initial plan) and poor planning (eg they admitted a shortage of Potassium Iodate pills). People on the Compound were nervous for good reason.

The second Town Hall on the 16th was much more successful. The Ambassador was able to confidently indicate there was no real danger for Tokyo residents even in a worst case scenario and this was backed with the qualified opinion of over 30 US nuclear disaster experts who had flown to Japan. Also, they announced installation of the Compound's own radiation monitor which indicated levels were within very acceptable limits.

However it did not help that during this time, the Political Minister Counselor Robert S Luke made quiet arrangements for his family to be evacuated. Of course this leaked. His wife, Ayumi Nakada, even posted it on her blog. Duh! Therefore many families felt that if the Lukes were evacuating, something must be up. And pressure on the Ambassador's office increased accordingly. Hence, I believe, they caved with a voluntary evacuation plan for Embassy staff and dependents. And, since the Ambassador indicated a consistent policy for American citizens, this new offer.. needed to be extended to US civilians and military cost (Embassy dependents fly free). What's even more ridiculous was that the offer of voluntary evacuation was extended to employees at the US Consulate in Nagoya. Next on the list... Seoul, HK, Taipei, Canberra ?

Here is the announcement for the US government:

US Embassy ACSKeep in mind my latest comments regarding this:

From: American Embassy Tokyo []
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 3:02 PM
Subject: Warden Message Japan

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo informs U.S. citizens in Japan who wish to depart that the Department of State is making arrangements to provide transportation to safehaven locations in Asia.  This assistance will be provided on a reimbursable basis, as required by U.S. law.  U.S. citizens who travel on US government-arranged transport will be expected to make their own onward travel plans from the safehaven location.  Flights to evacuation points will begin departing Japan on Thursday, March 17.  There will be a limited number of seats available on evacuation flights departing from Narita and Haneda airports on March 17.  Priority will be given to persons with medical emergencies or severe medical conditions.

Persons interested in departing Japan via USG-chartered transportation should proceed to Narita and Haneda airports or contact the US Department of State and EmbassyJapan by sending an email to or by calling 1-202-501-4444.  Please provide the following information:
Name, age, place of birth, U.S. passport number and any special medical needs.
Immediate family members (spouses and children) who are not U.S. citizens must be documented for entry into the safehaven country and/or U.S., if that is your final destination.

Frequently Asked Question

I’m ready to go.  What do I do?
Documented U.S. citizens may proceed to Haneda or Narita airport as of Thursday, March 17 at 6:00 pm.
My child is a U.S. citizen. Can my whole family be evacuated?
A U.S. citizen child may be escorted by one adult, preferably a parent, who has appropriate travel documents.  If a family has more than one U.S. citizen child, the one-adult rule still applies.

Do I need a U.S. passport?
All U.S. citizen travelers and their spouses and children, are required to have valid travel documents.  The U.S. Embassy in Japan will assist U.S. citizens with travel documents.  U.S. citizens who do not hold a valid U.S. passport or visa and are interested in departing Japan via USG-chartered transportation should contact the USDepartment of State and Embassy Japan by sending an email or by calling 1-202-501-4444.
What do I do if my child is a U.S. citizen, but hasn’t yet been documented?
Contact the U.S. Embassy in Japan.  U.S. citizens who do not hold a valid U.S. passport or visa interested in departing Japan via USG-chartered transportation should contact the U.S. Department of State and Embassy Japan by sending an email or by calling 1-202-501-4444.

My family members aren’t U.S. citizens.  Can they travel with me?
The scheduled evacuation flights will transport U.S. citizens and their immediate family members.  Immediate family members – defined as spouses and children – who are not U.S. citizens will be required to have travel documentation that will permit their entry into the safe haven destinations.  At this time, flights are expected to travel to Seoul, Republic of Korea and Taipei, Taiwan.  Safe haven destinations may change.  U.S. citizens requesting evacuation will not be able to select their safe haven destinations.

Will you fly me to the United States?
Our goal is to get people to a safe place, where they can make their own onward travel arrangements.  Travelers will be responsible for their own onward travel arrangements and accommodations in the safe haven city.  Consular officers will provide travelers with information on airlines and hotels.

What should I bring?
Travelers should bring valid travel documents and any necessary medications.
Each traveler may bring one suitcase and a small personal carry-on item.
U.S. citizens seeking evacuation should be prepared for a substantial wait at the airport.  Travelers are advised to bring food, water, diapers and other necessary toiletries with them to the airport.

What about my pets?
Evacuation flights will not be able to accommodate pets.

Do I have to pay for the flight?
U.S. citizens requesting evacuation will be asked to sign paperwork promising to reimburse the U.S. Government for flight costs at a later date.  Exact flight costs are not yet available, but should be comparable to a one-way commercial flight from Japan to the safehaven location.

How do I get to the airport?
Public transport to include taxis is still operating in Japan.

Insider closes with: 

As I indicated, if you are rational, this offer is unnecessary. ETA as it turned out, on the second day of voluntary evacuations (free for Embassy staff and dependents in Tokyo and of all places... Nagoya; up to $3000 per person for civilians and military ...can you guess who made the rules?) there were three Boeing 747s... one had only 8 passengers which outnumbered the crew. At least one flew empty. Your tax dollars at work. 

PS Also as I indicated, the offer of KI pills to civilians .... for US citizens ONLY. Not Japanese dependents or family (unlike the policy indicated by the British and the fleeing French). They are NOT posting in their ACS messages or on their website and the Embassy operator is discouraging people from taking up the offer if they call the mainline for more information (03) 3224 5000. The pick-up times are very convenient for US Embassy staffers -- Mon - Friday 0900 - 1700 at the New Sanno Hotel. No weekends. And, they have indicated they might discontinue it Monday. My guess is that they do not have enough. On March 15th the Ambassador confessed there was not enough for Embassy staffers so not surprised. Another reason for keeping the publicity down on this ... it directly contradicts John V Roos' March 13th statement that there would be "no double standard" for Embassy staff and US citizens.

Another insider confirms the story above:

You can easily confirm the story on the Luke's (secret evacuation plans) with near anyone on the Compound. 

The whole KI pill issue is being handled very poorly.  Anyways, I don't think it is necessary - and has the probability of doing more harm than good if a few people down them unnecessarily. Regardless if you consider that many long-term American expats who live in Japan are married to Japanese nationals, restricting distribution to US citizens to civilians who want these pills is an idiotic and discriminatory policy. Especially when dependents of Embassy employees - regardless of nationality - were provided with not just KI pills but also free voluntary - albeit crap - evacuation flights to Taipei/Seoul. They also charged US military which really makes you wonder. The US government is even charging evacuees from Northern Japan for the bus rides from Sendai. "No double standard"? Ambassador John V Roos can kiss my ass.  

As I have posted before, in Fly-Jin Even hits the Wall Street Journal

Note to foolish foreigner: Your Japanese staff think you are a buffoon, regardless of what they say to your face. Your position and status are compromised. The respect they held for you - if they ever had any - is completely compromised. Remember: It takes a very long time to build trust, it takes one action to destroy that trust forever.) 
What are you going to do about it, foreign manager? 

These sorts of people, who shirked their duties, like Mr. Luke and Mr. Roos have been compromised. They should be removed from their positions.

UPDATE! Alert reader, Thomas P. Logan adds this:

No doubt you have heard this from the WSJ (Japan Real Time) just today, too, Mike?
Things that make you go hmmmmmm..... 

U.S. Embassy Gives Potassium Iodide to Citizens


Mark said...

picked up my pills today. only a few people were there. got them just in case all hell breaks loose, but doubt i will ever use them.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Thanks Mark,

Potassium Iodide Not Necessary for People Who Eat Japanese Diet:

Rob Pugh said...

Hmm... while I agree with you on the stupidity, nonsensicality [I'm sure that's not a word] and irrational, fear based thinking of the flyjin... I can't really fault the Embassy too much here.

It seems one of two things - you're locking them into one of two options... if the Embassy doesn't go into a panic induced frenzy - "no, our evac plan is standard for citizens in trouble - reimbursable/vouchers - and no we don't have a massive pill stockpiles" - they're called to carpet for being unprepared and having "weak contingency plans." Then, when they're pressured into taking more extreme actions, they're responsible for starting a panic? That's a no-win scenario option right there.

Also, I take issue with the idea of "quiet arrangements/secret evacuation plans" for a couple reasons - one, there's no way this was attempted on the down low, and framing it as a secret seems disingenuous at best. For one, to process that kind of paperwork for family members, all sorts of eyes have to see & approve the travel paperwork. Secondly, as noted, the wife put it on her blog, so the idea that they were trying to secret his family out doesn't ring true. And thirdly - disclaimer: my wife started working for State recently [the sacrifices I make for love,] though not in Japan - and on an embassy compound everybody is all up in everybody else's business. The rumor/gossip mill ensures everybody knows about this kinda stuff as soon as it happens, almost.

And while I can mock the idiocy of those fleeing Japan [just love the term 'flyjin' btw] if an individual wants to pull an overly cautious "better safe than sorry" for their family, while I don't agree, that's their right as an individual.

I was in Japan when the tsunami hit [for jr high graduation] thankfully down in Fukuoka, where there was no damage - but isn't it more likely that the "panic" among the flyjin was more likely originated from the incessant Japanese TV reporting and actions of fellow Japanese. I know well meaning Japanese folk, in Fukuoka, with no damage and no danger possible at all, really, who in the days after the tsunami were raiding stores for water, batteries and tp "just in case" of the "danger." To find, in some cases, the stores were out, because of all the other Japanese folks thinking and shopping and buying from the same fear-based mentality.

I know this was a few weeks ago/late comment, but just saw the article on LRC and dropped by to see if you'd addressed it here. I think, overall, the Embassy situation was at worst, poorly executed and wasteful, but you'd be hard pressed to call it criminal. But I could be wrong, of course. Cheers for the article/post - made me clear the cobwebs out of the brain-meat and do some thinking. Good stuff.

Oh, and as mentioned in the LRC piece, but not here, as to leadership/followership/inspiring criticism and/or loyalty from underlings - I've found there are always a handful of folks who are never happy with any decisions from above, and feed off complaining about them. Not saying that's the case here, but some folks absolutely don't like their bosses - that's not always a knock on their bosses... Or them, for that matter.