Reflecting the path to recovery and post-quake Tohoku
Roundtable with Joban Kosan Chairman and Executive Director Kazuhiko Saito and Class of 2014 Graduates
On March 25, 2015, the Class of 2014 graduates celebrated their graduation ceremony at Chuo University's Tama Campus, joined by alumni Kazuhiko Saito, Chairman and Executive Director of Joban Kosan giving a congratulatory message. After the ceremony, a round-table discussion was held between Saito and graduates with connections to Fukushima and Tohoku. Faculty of Law professors Hirayama and Nakazawa also attended, and discussed the progress in the disaster areas after four years from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Spirit of "One Mountain, One Family" supporting resumption of business
- In this discussion, I would like to have a message from Chairman Saito to the graduates who worked as volunteers and conducted research and study in Fukushima and Miyagi, which were devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. First of all, could you tell us about the progress of "Spa Resort Hawaiians" which is run by Joban Kosan?
- Joban Kosan was originally named "Joban Mining Company", and mined coal in Yumoto Town (now the Joban district of Iwaki City). Yumoto was known as a hot spring district at the time, but hot springs were natural enemies for coal mining. However, when the coal industry went into a decline, the predecessors, in order to secure employment and develop the region, made use of those natural enemies. That was the start of today's Spa Resort Hawaiians (then Joban Hawaiian Center). Since then we have overcome many difficulties, with this year marking our 50th anniversary. Even if I say so myself, I think we have done well to survive so long.
- You no doubt suffered great damage in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake?
- We didn't suffer that much damage in the March 11 quake. However, we were devastated by the aftershock that struck one month later. Our company had overcome the exhaustion of coal and the collapse of the bubble economy, but at this time, many employees, including myself, thought our company would go bankrupt this time. However, we received so much support from everyone in the community and managed to reopen 10 months after the quake.
- In my seminar we stayed at Spa Resort Hawaiians in 2013 and conducted research on Iwaki at the time. I would like to ask Ashizawa, who participated in that research, to share what we found.
- We conducted research at the "Iwaki Yotsukura Central Industrial Park" in Yotsukura Town, Iwaki City. Small and medium-sized business which had evacuated due to the nuclear plant accident was operating temporary factories here. We covered two of those companies. Although both companies had run community-based operations up until the disaster, relocating their base relations with almost all their customers had ground to a halt. Although they managed to continue operations through the help of other companies in the same industry and old customers, both presidents said they will be difficult to expand operations in the future. Reasons behind this can be given as an unwillingness to take business away from other companies in the industry, refraining from expanding the area of the factory, and the problem of successors.
- In Fukushima there are many companies that are deeply rooted in the area. Our company has also moved along with the region. In coal-mine industry there is a saying that has continued from the Meiji Era, "one mountain, one family." It means that the people who work in the mountain are all one family and live and die together. These kinds of bonds greatly helped our company. All of our staff worked hard together, and even our main bank and the local banks allowed us to focus on restoring the company as they said, "don't worry about funds, we will give you total support." Chuo University graduates and students also offered a helping hand, so we could get underway. However, in the coastal areas of the same Iwaki City, where marine products and sea bathing were income sources, restoration is still going to take time. I would like everyone to continue giving support to both local companies and those that have evacuated.
Facilitation of mutual understanding and emotional care
- Bonding with local communities are important. Kusano from Fukushima, another student who took part in the same study, is going to go to work in Fukushima after graduating. I would also like him to give a report on his research.
- Iwaki, while also being a disaster zone, was an evacuation center for the victims of the nuclear accident at the same time. For that reason, the number of residents increased suddenly, bringing traffic congestion and crowded medical facilities. There was also friction between Iwaki residents and the evacuees, which I conducted research on its causes and solutions. As a result, I believe that a feeling of unfairness was at the root of the friction. Iwaki also received damage from the tsunami, but because it was not as much as the hometowns of the evacuees, there was a gap in financial aid. I proposed three solutions in my thesis. My first solution was to improve mutual understanding and awareness. My second solution was to improve the national policies that led to the feeling of unfairness. My third solution was to spread knowledge of the situation to the rest of the world. In the future, I hope for the realization of recovery policies for the disaster victims, and want to spread knowledge of the situation.
- There is no doubt there is a friction between the residents and evacuees. But they are slowly beginning to understand each other's position. Some of the evacuees cannot return to their hometowns, and if they need to relocate, Iwaki is the limit for them geographically. The people of Fukushima are deeply rooted in their areas, so they will find it hard to move to faraway regions where the climate and temperament of the locals are different. I want to aim to create an environment where there is mutual understanding and they can live together comfortably.
- That's right. On the other hand, Miyazaki's mother's hometown is Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecture, and after the disaster, she went to neighboring Kesennuma City in Miyagi as a reconstruction support volunteer leader. I will now have her introduce those activities.
- From the end of 2011 I conducted volunteer activities cooperating with a community support group at a temporary housing facility in Kesennuma, and learning support activities for the local children. At the start I was always made to realize my inexperience and immaturity, and felt that I was useless to the disaster victims, but by being involved with children through the learning support activities and the temporary housing shelter activities, I noticed the importance of mutual understanding between each individual. I learnt that university students from Tokyo like myself, victims and children can understand each other through talking, become more positive in thinking, and regain pride.
- The area around Kesennuma also received a lot of damage, but the locals and recovery supporters have joined together and are working hard. However, there are still a lot of hardships to come. Including psychological support, I think that continual support is a necessity. The people of Fukushima are reserved in speech and may not look at you and say "thank you", but they are truly grateful in their hearts. There are a lot of things that we can't come up with, so even I was helped immensely by those conducting recovery support.
Awareness gained from the disaster
- The Great East Japan Earthquake greatly affected the spirit of the region, of course, and the people. I'm sure you also experienced a change in attitude after visiting the disaster areas.
- I met people who lived desperately in order to somehow overcome the danger. In the beginning, I only saw and heard about them in the news, however I started to see the humans who were affected. Now, I think of the situation in the disaster area as my own problem, not as someone else's problem, and I want to face up to it and take more action. Also, watching the local adults working hard, I had a feeling of respect for their way of living rooted in the land. It was also a chance for me to consider my own way of life and reason to work again.
- I am from Fukushima and I came to Tokyo the month after the disaster to enter Chuo University. Although I had decided to come since before the quake, I kept worrying and thought, "Am I running away, is this really the right thing to do?" However, there were many things I noticed by watching the situation in Fukushima from Tokyo and thought about what I could do myself if I returned. All my friends from the hometown are saying that the disaster was a chance for them to think anew about Fukushima. As long as they put everything into thinking about how they can be useful for their hometown, I think the future of Fukushima is bright.
- My father is from Akita so I thought I knew quite a bit about the Tohoku region. However, when I actually went to the affected areas I realized that I only knew part of the situation and that there were many things that I couldn't see while in Tokyo. Through the research and study in the disaster areas, I also found out that what the government and bureaucrats may think is best is not always the best for the locals. What I learnt from here was, for example, even if that person's opinion or actions don't match my own, they are doing so in line with their own beliefs and what they think is right, so I must not dismiss them. Even if I meet someone who has different opinions, I have learned to keep that in mind.
- Even if the opinion differs from your own, it is important to have an attitude that accepts that opinion without dismissing it straight off the bat. That could be said to be the key for smooth progress for recovery.
- You have all learned various things from your experiences in the disaster areas. What I learned from the disaster is to be grateful for receiving support from people. After being destroyed by the aftershock, I had conflicting thoughts of, "Whatever happens, I must protect the workers' jobs" and "There is nothing to do but close down." However, thanks to the support from everybody I was able to protect the employment for almost all my workers. I think that this was close to a miracle. I really want to thank those who supported us, and the remaining workers, from the bottom of my heart. Looking back now, I think I have really been blessed with great people around me.
Treasure your connections with the region and people
- The key to the recovery of "Spa Resort Hawaiians" was the one mountain, one family spirit, support from outsiders, and being blessed by the workers and people around you. However, I think that protecting the jobs was due to your strong determination. Where did that come from?
- I only operate my company in Iwaki and North Ibaraki. Because both areas were damaged in the earthquake and nuclear accident I had nowhere to go, but I couldn't run away. If that was the case, my only choice was to work hard in the regions and I wasn't going to end my company which has about 130 years of history. Whatever happens I must protect the regions, whatever happens I must revive the company──My roots lie in that belief.
- Even though there was a way of escaping, I think your company was revived because you didn't run away, either physically or mentally. I am inspired to hear your experience before I return to my hometown in Fukushima to work.
- It wasn't only me who didn't run away, as my workers were the same. From the earthquake to the reopening of "Spa Resort Hawaiians", only two employees left, and that was due to personal circumstances. I didn't think so many employees would remain. Among the hula girls in the show, some were from Tokyo and Kanagawa. Some returned home after the quake and I was prepared that they wouldn't return. However, when lessons resumed on April 22, all of them came back. When I saw that I was confident we could be revived.
- From hearing your story, I can feel a resolution that because of your deep connections to the regions, this was the only possible departure point. In order to move things, it is people and the relations between the people that become the driving force. Money and economics are secondary factors. It is really people that are the most important.
- That's right. I hope that you will meet many people after graduating from Chuo. There are many good things and bad things in life. Even so, if you are honest to your feelings and make continuous effort, you will come across some special opportunities. Don't let that chance slip away. In the case of my company, that chance was the movie "Hula Girls" becoming a hit. Thanks to that, we had a sudden increase in customers to our hotel, and the earthquake hit during reconstruction to increase the hotel capacity. At one time I had given up hope, but we were helped by everybody, and are now treading the road to recovery steadily.
- I also went to Kesennuma six months after the earthquake, and saw the locals working hard and felt the underlying strength possessed by the people of the Tohoku region. Since then I have been taking students there every year. The three graduates in attendance today said that they have gained awareness through listening to the local people, but the locals are also saying, "Listening to young people gives us strength." In the end it is people who save people. Creating opportunities to learn that is also the mission of the university. One more thing, in pursuing the "One Mountain, One Family" spirit you mentioned, a leader to bring together the "family" is necessary. In restoration, leadership and a structure that gives energy to the people is indispensable, and you have put that into practice wonderfully. I want to convey this pioneering achievement to my students in the future.
Kazuhiko Saito / Joban Kosan,.Ltd., Chairman and Executive Director
Kazuhiko Saito was born in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture in 1945. He graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1968 and entered Joban-Yumoto Onsen Kanko (now Joban Kosan). He changed the company-run hot bath facility, the "Joban Hawaiian Center", located in Iwaki, into "Spa Resort Hawaiians", contributing to an increase in customers. He started his current position after working as general manager of the company's tourism division headquarters, Hotel Hawaiians, director of Joban Kosan and head of Joban Kosan's tourism division, and managing director of the same company.
Reiji Hirayama / Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: German Language and German Literature
Former Director, Student Affairs Office (April 2013-March 2015)
Reiji Hirayama was born in Niigata City in 1951. He completed the doctoral program at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities (majoring in German literature). He entered the Chuo University Faculty of Law (German language) in 1984 after working as a lecturer at Yamagata University. He majors in German language and literature. His current research topic focuses on 18th century German literature and ideology such as Lessing and Goethe, and German Jewish Culture. He is also researching the people who saved Jews from the Holocaust. As hobbies, when he was a primary school student he idolized Ensho and wanted to be a comic storyteller. In middle and high school he loved dramatic comic strips and wanted to become a cartoonist (he failed twice in applications for the "Shonen Magazine" newcomer's award), and wrote novels for a fanzine at university. Neither dream materialized.
Host：Hideo Nakazawa / Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Political Sociology and Local Community Sociology
Hideo Nakazawa was born in Tokyo. He graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1994. He received his doctorate (sociology) from the University of Tokyo in 2001. He started his current position in 2009 after working as a lecturer in the Faculty of Social Information, Sapporo Gakuin University, and associate professor in the Faculty of Letters, Chiba University. He is a member of the Japan Sociological Society and Japan Association of Regional and Community Studies etc. His major publications include Juumin Touhyou Undou to Ro-karu Rejiimu (Local Referendum Movements and Local Regimes) (Harvest-sha), Kankyou no Shakaigaku (Environmental Sociology) (coauthor, Yuhikaku Publishing), and Heiseishi (Hesei Era History) (coauthor, Kawade Shobo Shinsha). He won the 5th JSS Encouragement Award, 32nd Tokyo Institute for Municipal Research Fujita Award and the 1st Japan Association for Urban Sociology Young Person's Encouragement Award for Local Referendum Movements and Local Regimes.
Shiori Miyazaki / Graduate from the Faculty of Letters
Worked as a student volunteer group leader in Kesennuma.
Daiki Kusano / Graduate from the Faculty of Law
Studied in the Nakazawa Seminar and conducted research and study of post-quake Iwaki.
Ashizawa Kimihito / Graduate from the Faculty of Law
Same as above.