At approximately 5:30 a.m. Tokyo time Thursday morning, Mayor Karl Dean fielded questions from Nashville media via teleconference, adding details to a trip to Japan that’s generated much curiosity in light of that nation’s historic earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Dean, who in Tokyo is far away from areas of widespread disaster, talked of repeated blackouts and said he has felt a minor earthquake during his stay. He also spoke of the resiliency of the Japanese people.
“Everyone’s spirit is just remarkably high,” he said.
Joined on the Japan trip by his wife and daughters, but no Metro officials, Dean said he was invited to the country by the Japanese government because he’s the mayor of a city with a number of Japanese investments. Dean’s family paid for the trip themselves. No Metro tax dollars have gone towards traveling expenses.
Dean said there hasn’t been any specific company visits during the trip that involves looking for actual investments in Nashville, adding that several meetings have taken place but some were canceled because of the natural disaster. He said he’s met with members from the Japan External Trade Organization and the Foreign Ministry, has traveled to the city of Kamakura and is visiting Gibson Japan, among other groups.
“This trip is not specifically designed to have an announcement that comes from it,” Dean said.
“It’s not about any sort of specific project,” he said. “What will come of this is I will have a greater familiarity with the Japanese government, the Japanese people and Japanese business, but there won’t be any specific announcement. And plus, everybody is focused right now on what’s going to happen here in the next six months to a year in terms of recovery.”
Dean’s trip has turned into a water cooler topic, of sorts, over the past few days, with some questioning why the mayor went forward with it. One reporter asked Dean about the criticism back home.
“I haven’t heard any,” he said.
“I don’t even know what the criticism could be,” Dean said. “Obviously, I’m here by the request of the Japanese government. I was encouraged to go forward with the trip by the Japanese government on Friday morning when I talked to them. I felt that it would be the appropriate thing to do, and when I got here I certainly didn’t feel compelled to leave. A lot of people went through a lot of trouble to arrange things, and I wanted to go forward with that.”
The mayor, who is set to return to Nashville March 20, said he flew to Chicago from Nashville en route to Japan at about 5 a.m., Friday, March 11.
“I had gotten maybe one or two emails from colleagues saying that something had happened in Japan, but no details,” Dean said of his morning departure. “When I got to the airport in Nashville there was no other information. I went on to Chicago. At that point, I got a call from Consul General [Hiroshi] Sato, who basically said there [had] been a severe earthquake, but that I should go on with the trip.
“My only concern at that point was that I didn’t want to be in the way if there were some people taking actions that they normally would not take,” he said. “I didn’t want them to have to entertain me. He assured me that I wouldn’t be in the way and that I should feel free to come ahead.
Dean, who called the Japanese “incredibly stoic and dignified,” said this is his first trip to Japan. He said Tokyo right now is “extremely quiet” given the recent events.
“I’m in a hotel in the central business district that is probably less than half full,” he said. “Just going out for dinner, going into a restaurant, we’re generally one of two parties in a restaurant. It’s so empty. The traffic is much, much reduced. There are periodic blackouts. When I was in Kamakura yesterday meeting with the mayor there, there were blackouts. People are staying indoors more I think because of the radiation issue and because they’re just overwhelmed. A lot of things are closed. Stores closing, restaurants closing, a lot of the museums we wanted to go to were closed for the entire week.
“It’s definitely a different feeling here,” he said.
Dean said he’s received assurance from the Japanese government regarding his personal safety.
“The people here are very calm,” Dean said. “There’s no sense of panic at all. People are watching TV for information, clearly. And people are being very cooperative throughout these blackouts.
“This is a time for us to keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” Dean said, concluding the call.