Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture, Japan–Yoshitaka Hirano, owner-manager of Riasu Kaisu Ten, a medium-sized seaweed processor in Sanriku district, was in a serious mood when Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz met him briefly in his once-bustling seaweed processing plant in this former city of 50,000 population.
Kamaishi, along with other coastal areas in eastern Japan, was destroyed when a giant tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011 inundated the city, killing thousands and devastating businesses and infrastructure.
“Exactly a day before the tsunami struck, I have just inaugurated our new plant,” said Hirano, narrating how he struggled after the tsunami to rebuild his factory.
“The sea-water reached the roof,” he narrated, pointing to the steel beams that now begin to show rust. But I said I will not leave Sanriku, Iwate, so I rebuilt with the help of the government.”
Hirano also had to overcome the lack of manpower, as well unfounded rumours that his seaweed products are tainted with radiation.
“Local workers don’t want to work with us. They have this perception that work in marine products processing is dangerous so they go to construction where the wages are higher. We are coping, though, and today, we are now 60 percent of our capacity,” Hirano said, adding that he resorted to hiring foreign technical interns, mostly Vietnamese, to get his factory running.
Baldoz, who yesterday arrived from Japan where she spoke at the International Labor Organization’s Symposium on Employment-led Post-Disaster Recovery, said she admired the resiliency of Japan’s hometown entrepreneurs like Hirano, saying small business owners in the country, particularly those in Typhoon Yolanda-hit areas, can learn a lesson or two from the Japanese.
“Small and medium enterprises which remain and invest back in their communities after a disaster deserve not only full government support but also public recognition for their invaluable contribution to recovery,” Baldoz said.
“Home-grown small and medium enterprises who brave risks in their own communities after a disaster stand as shining examples that should inspire big companies to invest in jobs because productive and decent jobs are the fastest way to build back better,” she added.
She also cited the story of Riasu Kaissuo Ten owner, Takeichi Kemigahora who, after three years, has rebuilt his scallop processing plant, also in Sanriku, from scratch. Kemigahora, whose processing plant was wiped out by the tsunami, was more emphatic and passionate about not leaving Yamaishi.
“As a primary industry in this remote area, I provide jobs and income to fishermen here. So, as a way of paying back my community, I stay,” he said.
He spoke of mission, responsibility, and duty, saying this is how he lived and he will not change his mind.
“I cultivate my relationship with my 30,000 customers by informing them about our situation; that we are rebuilding from scratch; and they understand. Even my eight employees work like workhorses because they know their mission,” he explained.
Another business owner, Mrs. K. Miyazaki, related to Secretary Baldoz how she and her husband returned from Paris, France, after the tsunami to take-over the management of the family business from his father who was so depressed after the tragedy.
“I decided to stay because my town will not be rebuilt by others, but by ourselves,” Miyazaki said.
Her family company, Sanriku Iriya Suisan, is also a three-generation marine products processor that provides employment to local citizens.
“We need to do this ourselves; create a new town; create a new situation. If we work hard, then people in surrounding areas might be inspired,” she said.
While in Japan, Baldoz also met with Philippine Ambassador to Tokyo Manuel Lopez who gave an update of Japan’s assistance to the country in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. She also met with Japanese parliamentarians led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Masahiko Komura, member of the House of Representatives, of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, with whom he discussed the Philippines’s on-going rehabilitation and rebuilding program.
During the meeting, the Japanese Parliamentary inform Secretary Baldoz of the US$2.5M support for the sustainable livelihood Yolanda survivor to be coursed to ILO in partnership with the DOLE.
“On behalf of the Philippine government, I thank the government of Japan for its generous support and assistance to our rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts after the typhoon,” Baldoz said during the meeting with the Japanese MPs.
Baldoz also met Yoshiteru Uramoto, the ILO Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, who informed her that the government of Japan has donated US$2.5 million to the ILO to support recovery efforts related to Typhoon Yolanda in partnership with DOLE.