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Business Leaders, Industry Experts Share Stories of Innovation that Continue to Revitalize Japan's Tsunami-Devastated Region

Local Economic Recovery: Firsthand Accounts from Tohoku

Monday, September 17, 2012, 6:30 pm, at Japan Society 

New York, NY -- The world’s eyes were on Kamaishi City in Iwate Prefecture when a large portion of the city was devastated by the March 2011 tsunami. A number of small and mid-sized businesses—the lifeblood of the region—have taken innovative, entrepreneurial approaches that have yielded initial successes in revitalizing the local economy.

In Local Economic Recovery: Firsthand Accounts from Tohoku, local leaders Akiko Iwasaki, owner of Horaikan, a well-known ryokan (traditional Japanese inn); Akio Ono, president of Ono Foods; and Takahiro Sasa, Kamaishi City's deputy manager of industry promotion; as well as energy expert Takeo Kikkawa, a professor at Hitotsubashi University,give firsthand accounts of how they have restarted their businesses against formidable odds and discuss challenges that continue to confront their community and others like it a year and a half after the disaster. The discussion takes place Monday, September 17, at 6:30 pm, and is followed by a reception.

Horaikan, a ryokan overlooking the Nebama coast in Kamaishi, has become famous around Japan as a symbol of the recovery of the region. The inn had previously been awarded the Mainichi Shimbun Green Tourism Grand Price for 2008, but its lower two floors were badly damaged in the tsunami, and its owner, Akiko Iwasaki, barely survived after being caught in the waves. Fortunately, she had taken measures to make the inn tsunami-proof, which allowed it to be used as an evacuation center for the first several days for about 100 people. Iwasaki has since managed to repair the inn, and it was reopened for business in January 2012. She has used her role at the inn to launch a number of innovative initiatives to attract tourism to Kamaishi City.

Akio Ono, President, Ono Foods Co., Ltd., has been highly successful as a local entrepreneur, expanding the sales of his family’s Kamaishi-based seafood processing company 25 times over since taking the helm in 1988. His newly built factory, which required that he take on several millions of dollars in debt, was swept away by the tsunami on March 11. Despite the debt his company now carries for the destroyed factory, he managed to obtain financing to build a completely new factory in Kamaishi, which has allowed him to hire back many of his former employees and is playing a key role in the revival of the region’s fishing industry. In this discussion, he will touch on the state of the marine product processing industry in the Iwate prefecture and why it is so critical for the region, specific problems of the business in the afflicted areas such as multiple debts and employment, and what type of new innovations have proved successful for business owners like himself after the disaster when they had to find a new customer base (for example: direct mail order sales).

Since entering the Kamaishi City Municipal Office in 1973, Takahiro Sasa, Deputy Manager, Industry Promotion Department, Kamaishi City worked in a range of administrative departments before transferring to the planning and business marketing division in 1988. He has become a key figure in the promotion of bioethanol, marine biotechnology, and smelting R&D in Kamaishi to help revitalize the city’s industrial base. He will discuss the reconstruction process of Kamaishi City and continuing challenges, and how the reconstruction process provides opportunities to shift the industrial base of Kamaishi and help improve its sustainability and livability over the long term. 

One of Japan’s leading experts on energy policy, Takeo, Dr. Takeo Kikkawa, Professor, Graduate School of Commerce and Management, Hitotsubashi University,is a business professor at Hitotsubashi University and has also taught at the University of Tokyo and elsewhere. He leads the Kamaishi Smart Community Examination Committee and is also a member of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry’s Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, serving on the Fundamental Issues Subcommittee. He will look at the overall situation of Japan one and half years after the tsunami, nuclear energy and Japan’s energy policy, and the challenges and opportunity in changes of energy sources for cities like Kamaishi and small business owners.

Local Economic Recovery: Firsthand Accounts from Tohokuis part of a larger project organized by the Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation called “Japan-US Exchange of Business Leaders for the Reconstruction of Eastern Japan.” The purpose of the project is to provide business leaders in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture the opportunity to travel to the US to express their gratitude to those who have supported the recovery of Tohoku and exchange experiences and information with business leaders from New Orleans who have contributed to the revitalization of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is an American nonprofit committed to deepening mutual understanding between the United States and Japan in a global context. Now in its second century, the Society serves audiences across the United States and abroad through innovative programs in arts and culture, public policy, business, language, and education.

Local Economic Recovery: Firsthand Accounts from Tohoku takes place Monday, September 17 at 6:30 pm. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). Tickets are $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors and students. Tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or at www.japansociety.org. For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit the website.

This program is co-sponsored by The Shibusawa Eiichi Memorial Foundation, Japan Center for International Exchange, and Asia Society, and is supported by the City of Kamaishi, The Consulate General of Japan in New York, and The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

Media Contacts:

Shannon Jowett, 212-715-1205, sjowett@japansociety.org

Kuniko Shiobara, 212-715-1249, kshiobara@japansociety.org

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