Seminar: Creating a New Tohoku
• Tohoku economic seminar, one of Kizuna 5: the fifth anniversary of the
great earthquake and tsunami related events, took place on March 9 at
the Grant Thornton’s conference room.
• Ichiro Sone, Chief Executive Director of JETRO Chicago, spoke about
“Creating A New Tohoku”, the firsthand observations on Tohoku’s recovery
and an update on the economy-insights on Tohoku region. Akihiro Ohyama,
CEO of IRIS USA, Inc., spoke about “Our Challenge to Revive Tohoku”. IRIS’s
parent company headquarters is located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture in
Tohoku region. The last speaker, Yoshiyuki Takasago, Deputy Director-General,
Commerce, Industry and Tourism Department of Miyagi Prefecture Government,
talked about “Recovery and Business Opportunities in Miyagi”.
• In his opening remarks, Consul General Toshiyuki Iwado
said that the two ways to help supporting Tohoku’s economy were buying
food and promoting tourism. He emphasized safety of the food, which was
only allowed to enter the market after passing the strict examinations.
He also accentuated the attractiveness and the safety of the Tohoku region
except some prohibited areas near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear
Creating a New Tohoku
• Ichiro Sone spoke about the update on reconstruction
• The number of evacuees has decreased from 470,000 to 174,000, much of
the infrastructure has recovered, and industrial production indices recovered
to the pre-earthquake level. The decontamination effort has continued,
and evacuation orders have been lifted area by area. Recovery efforts
are well under way, but there are still many things to be done. It takes
a long time.
Efforts toward Decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi
Nuclear Power Plant
• The completion of the decommissioning will take 30
to 40 years, but the work is moving well.
• The power plants are under cold shutdown, and fuel removal of unit 4
was completed in 2014.
• The contaminated water has been managed under the three basic principles;
1) removing the contamination source, 2) isolating groundwater from the
contamination source, and 3) preventing leakage of contaminated water.
Multi-layered measures have been taken such as constructing land-side
impermeable walls by utilizing the frozen-soil method.
• The contaminated water, which contained radioactive materials with a
relatively low concentration, had been flowing out into the open sea.
To respond that, additional measures such as the placement of purification
materials have been taken since the end of February, 2015, and a comprehensive
risk review was conducted.
• The fuel debris removal from the reactors is scheduled to be completed
within 10 years, and then the decommissioning work will continue.
• The world has had a few nuclear power plant accidents including Chernobyl
(1986), Three Mile Island (1979), and Windscale in the U.K. (1957). None
of them has completed decommissioning, according to a person who represents
an US nuclear remote/robotic system which has worked in Fukushima. He
said, “The work being done at Fukushima is actually moving at an accelerated
pace, and this is a great accomplishment.”
• Sone said, “The people in Fukushima have been suffering
with the damage caused by rumors and misinformation.” Radiation levels
in most part of Fukushima are now at the same level as the major cities
in the European Union and the U.S.
• The food and agriculture products from Fukushima are the safest in Japan
because radiation levels are measured and inspected.
• Two key industries for the future are lifescience and renewable energy.
Foreign companies have been invited to set up their facilities in Fukushima
with several incentives. Now Fukushima has 2.5 times more foreign companies
than it had before the disaster.
Our Challenge to Revive Tohoku
• Akihiro Ohyama, a native of Sendai City, spoke about
how his parent company, IRIS Ohyama, has helped Tohoku.
• Interestingly, Kentaro Ohyama, CEO of the company, took over a small
molding company from his father when he was 19 years old. During the past
50 years, Kentaro expanded it to a global company as one of most innovative
household products companies with over 7,000 employees and the group sales
of $2.675 billion. The company produces 15,000 items in eight factories
in Japan. Moreover, it introduces 1,300 new items every year, which contribute
to 56 % of the total sales of the company. IRIS group is consisted of
23 companies in the world.
• When the great earthquake hit Tohoku, the headquarters’
office and a main factory were damaged, but all 500 employees survived.
Three days after the disaster, 388 employees came back to the company
to resume the operation. Due to their hard work, the company resumed its
operation in two weeks. Its recovery was unusually quick.
• Many employees had damages at home, but the company asked them to keep
working because producing products could contribute to the needs of the
• Daishin Store, one of the group companies, had a long
line of customers a day after the disaster. They wanted to buy whatever
was needed to keep their lives; especially, kerosene was needed to keep
• A man came to make a deal to buy a substantial amount of kerosene to
resell it to his customers, so that he could make a profit. The store
manager got angry and decided to give out kerosene to the store customers
for free. He was worrying about if he would be fired because of his decision.
He is now President of Daishin Store.
Actions to Revive Tohoku
• First, IRIS Ohyama decided to donate $3 million in
funds and goods to the local community. The goods were very much appreciated
by the people of the region.
• Second, the company decided to hire high school graduate students from
hard-hit coastal areas to support young people.
• Third, the company tried to increase LED lighting to respond to the
shortage of power supply. After the disaster, all nuclear power plants
in Japan stopped their operations. Replacing traditional lights with LED
would save about 50 % of the energy needed for lighting. To contribute
to Tohoku and the entire society of Japan, it started a LED lighting business,
and now IRIS Ohyama is ranked in the third position in the lighting industry
• Fourth, the company’s CEO Kentaro created “Support Tohoku Mirai Initiative”
to help local business leaders. Many people lost their jobs or businesses
due to the disaster. Through a year-long session, the leaders were given
guidance and advice. Many of them were encouraged to start local businesses.
• Fifth, the company decided to help farmers. Tohoku is famous for producing
quality rice, so the company built rice refining facilities with new technologies,
which could keep the freshness of cropped rice for years. With the technologies,
rice in Tohoku is able to compete with rice from other areas.
• Akihiro Ohyama said that the company needed to help
Tohoku more. The next challenge is expanding Tohoku products globally
through its world-wide subsidiaries.
Recovery and Business Opportunities in Miyagi
• Yoshiyuki Takasago spoke about Miyagi Prefecture’s
1) infrastructure, 2) construction and development of new communities,
and 3) restoration of Industries.
• About 95 % of roads and bridges have been restored.
The volume of container handling at ports has been returned to pre-disaster
level. New community constructions are under way.
Building New Community
• Miyagi has two plans for community building. One is
relocating residential areas to high ground and bringing industrial facilities
to lower areas so that the residents are able to avoid the impact of tsunami.
(See figure 1)
• Another is multiple defense systems in the southern area. The coastal
area will be farmlands, and residential areas will be moved to inland
areas. Seawalls, roads, and railways will work as levees against tsunami.
(See figure 2)
• The population of Miyagi is about 2.3 million. About
320,000 people evacuated immediately after the disaster, and 47,000 people
are still living in the temporary housing. Their home building has been
undertaken by the government’s budget, and 8,000 out of 15,000 houses
have been completed.
Restoration of Industries
• Takasago said that Miyagi’s challenge was to revitalize
the industries while it was facing the declining population. About 6,000
people evacuated to outside of Miyagi and never returned.
• The local government has helped with expanding businesses to the global
market. It facilitated Miyagi’s food fair in Los Angeles and sister state
Delaware. It has also invited world conferences to Sendai City.
• Miyagi has invited domestic and foreign companies to
open operations in the area. To encourage economic recovery, the Miyagi
government has offered incentive packages such as tax subsidies and deregulations.
• Toyota Motor built a factory in 2011 that resulted in a growth of automobile
related industries. Tokyo Electron also came to Miyagi in 2012. So far,
more than 150 foreign companies have begun operating their businesses
• Miyagi is located northeast of Tokyo, and it takes
only 1.5 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train, and five hours from
Tokyo by car on the expressway. It has international ports and Sendai
airport, which is going to be privatized to offer more efficient transportation
services for business, logistics, and tourism.
• Takasago encouraged the audience to do business in Miyagi where low
cost operation and high quality labor forces were available.