NEWS - 1st Symposium

Report:entrepreneurs struggle to corporate restructuring in the affected areas(3)

Categories: 1st Symposium

Feeling alive, preserving our livelihood together, and humanely leading a pleasurable life

Representative Director of Yagisawa Syouten/Director of the Iwate Association
KONO, Michihiro


■ Reporter’s Company Overview
Stated capital: 10 million yen
Number of employees: 37
Annual turnover: 400 million yen
Business: Manufacturing of miso (soybean paste) and soy sauce


The earthquake and the ensuing tsunami destroyed all of their stores, factories, and offices. With nothing left, Mr. Kono, the then managing director of the company, proposed to become president himself immediately after the earthquake and resolved to reconstruct the company as president by all means by changing its management philosophy to “feeling alive, preserving our livelihood together, and humanely leading a pleasurable life”. Including the newly employed for the impending new fiscal year, they have retained all of their employees.
They moved their head office to Rikuzentakata last autumn. After almost two years since that fateful day, a new factory for manufacturing miso and soy sauce was completed. The main fermenting mash, the key ingredient of miso and soy sauce, has miraculously been recovered, and manufacturing at their own factory, which they have been dreaming of, is to resume soon. Having been supported by people throughout Japan, the step-by-step recovery of the company and the region hand in hand with its employees is reported.



In order to live on together with those who have survived

Yagisawa Syouten was established in 1807, and is in the brewing industry, a soy sauce manufacturer. Local customers accounted for 80% prior to the earthquake, and more than half of these customers were seafood processing companies and food companies in Kesennuma-shi and in Ofunato-shi. The population of Rikuzentakata-shi before the earthquake was 24,000, but it is now below 20,000. In particular, 35.4% of places of business was either completely destroyed by the earthquake or washed away by the tsunami.
Although I was with him when we called over the names, Yagisawa Syouten also lost a 30-year veteran employee, who did not come back after reporting to activities of volunteer fire corps. At that time, I said to my employees, “It’s all over. There’s nothing left. But business will be materialized for certain because we have to live on together with those who have survived. There is no telling if we can continue selling soy sauce, but let’s rebuild our business by all means”. What was in my head back then was the amount of our debt and money in our current account. Having calculated how long the company was able to pay wages of its employees with no sales whatsoever, I resolved to reconstruct the company with the aid of a very rough estimate that the company would probably survive for eight months.


Behaving humanely even in despair


t that time, I was the managing director, and the president, who is also my father, was on a business trip to Tokyo and was unable to come back for four days. In the meantime, I was in a talk with our employees at shelters, eventually giving them my word to reconstruct the company. Four days later when the ex-president finally came home, I asked him, “Please entrust me to become the president”. I carried everything on my back. I also visited my bank to ask for a loan for my own life as security, and they accepted it.
When considering how I could reorganize the company, what supported me was the philosophy of the Association. The phrase “feeling alive, preserving our livelihood together, and humanely leading a pleasurable life” is often mentioned by Mr. Akaishi, the Senior Adviser and Secretary of the National Conference of Association of Small Business Entrepreneurs, and, in the fourth morning from the earthquake, I resolved to rebuild Yagisawa Syouten with these three basic principles as pillars of the reconstruction effort.


Creating new jobs and reconstructing communities


Subsequently, a large volume of relief supplies was delivered by colleagues of the Associations nationwide as well as by our contract farmers within Iwate prefecture. About a quarter of the administrative staff in Rikuzentakata-shi had lost their lives. With administrative functions virtually paralyzed, private sector vitality was considered essential when distributing the relief supplies to every corner of the city. That is when we decided to utilize the network of the Association for the distribution of relief supplies.
The first thing that the Iwate Prefectural Association did was printing out the list of toll-free numbers of all financial institutions and appealing to sheltering entrepreneurs that they should call one of those numbers in person to prevent their funds from flowing out while delivering relief supplies to shelters.
Colleagues with the qualification of social insurance consultant were also invited for seminars to learn how employment could be maintained. There were two ways of protecting the livelihood of employees. One is temporarily suspending business and living on unemployment insurance, and the other is receiving unemployment adjustment subsidy payments. I selected to maintain employment by receiving unemployment adjustment subsidy payments, while contemplating a way to reorganize the company. With 85% of entrepreneurs in Rikuzentakata having suffered from the earthquake, the city itself would probably cease to exist if these entrepreneurs dismissed their workers all at once. Without the city, it would have been futile to rebuild the business because it would not possibly be able to hold up.
Every year the Iwate Prefectural Association holds a joint initiation ceremony in Morioka, but we had one in Kesennuma in that year since we were not able to travel there. I was deeply moved then, and I still remember the occasion. Industry had been declining all along in Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate prefecture. Our chapter was established from the anxiety that the city would be spoiled if we did not act right away. Since our main objectives were “let’s not close down any places of business if at all possible” and “let’s create more jobs, even one position per company would suffice. In order to realize this, entrepreneurs themselves must work hard to create new jobs”, we have been continuing our activities with a slogan of “not to close down any places of business” even after the earthquake.


“Sir, please entrust us for the rest”


Having somehow reorganized its management, Yagisawa Syouten moved its place of business to a neighboring town after the earthquake and fellow traders were kind enough to supply us with what they had produced on consignment in May that year. This is exactly what Japanese small business entrepreneurs are able to do. The reconstruction of our business would not have been possible without any cooperation from these Japanese entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, with the system of “fund called music securities” in place, individuals from the private sector are now able to invest with the aim of supporting local enterprises in the disaster-stricken region. As of today, Yagisawa Syouten has more than 3,120 investors nationwide. Thanks to this, the head office of Yagisawa Syouten has been moved to Yahagicho in Rikuzentakata-shi, the region unaffected by the tsunami, even though we were away from Rikuzentakata for a time. A factory has also been completed there, and, by the way, we were able to make preparation for the first time just yesterday. I must thank you all for your cooperation.
Compared with the number before the earthquake, 4,700 have lost their jobs in the entire Kesen district. However, the number could be considered miraculously small if we turned our attention to the fact that 85% of the enterprises were suffered damage. During January and February this year, the total number of employment recovered almost 100% of the previous number. Population is decreasing for now, but I believe it will recover if we can create new jobs in coming years.
The other day, what an employee told me encouraged me a great deal. He said, “If we experienced the worst in the beginning, things could only get better. It’s alright. Sir, please entrust us for the rest”. I would like to continue moving forward to recovery step by step with hope and prospect in my heart, together with our employees.

(Recorded by KATO, Asami, Secretariat of the Iwate Association of Small Business Entrepreneurs)

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