When Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi recently traveled to Japan to help strengthen ties between that country and the U.S., she didn't anticipate getting a crash course in the importance of earthquake preparedness.
Muranishi was part of a 13-person delegation of Japanese-American leaders from across the U.S. that met with Japanese government and business leaders the week of March 7 and discussed common issues such as the economy, education and the environment.
But she said her trip took an unexpected turn at 2:46 p.m. local time on March 11 when the group's charter bus "started rocking and rolling" as it pulled up outside a high-rise building in Tokyo where her delegation was scheduled to meet with high-ranking Japanese-American executives who work in Japan.
Muranishi, who's now safely back at her office at the county building in Oakland, said today that at first she thought that the bus simply had a flat tire, but she then realized that there was an earthquake, although she didn't know the magnitude of the temblor.
The 9.0-magnitude quake that hit northeast Japan, the largest recorded earthquake in the country's history, was about 230 miles away from Tokyo, but Muranishi felt it just the same.
Two cranes on top of a tall building nearby were swinging, but fortunately they didn't fall, she said.
The American delegation went ahead with its meeting with the executives, but its meeting with Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan, which was scheduled for two hours later, had to be canceled.
"There were lots more aftershocks and tremors," Muranishi said.
However, people in Tokyo were "very orderly and calm" and politely waited for stoplights before crossing the street, she said.
Subways and trains halted service overnight, but there were no power outages, according to Muranishi.
"They were well-prepared for their response to the earthquake," she said.
The delegation wasn't able to fly out of Tokyo last Saturday as scheduled but was able to leave a day later on Sunday, Muranishi said.
"It was quite a week," she said.
Muranishi, no stranger to large earthquakes, was on the fifth floor of the county building in Oakland when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989.
She said, "It seemed like it lasted forever," but the shaking actually was only about 30 seconds long. The earthquake in Japan lasted about two minutes, she said, indicating it was larger in scope.
The group that Muranishi was with is the Japanese American Leadership Delegation, which is now in its 11th year.
The delegation is sponsored by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership is co-organized the U.S.-Japan Council.
Muranishi said the group visited Kyoto and Osaka in addition to Tokyo and that highlights of the trip included visits and discussions with Princess Hisako Takamado; John Roos, the U.S. ambassador to Japan; and the new Japanese foreign minister, Takeaki Matsumoto. The delegation met with Matsumoto on his first day on the job, she said.
Muranishi said Alameda County has activated an emergency relief fund for employees to donate money and vacation time to help victims of the Japan earthquake. She said the U.S.-Japan Council also has established a disaster relief fund.
Bay City News