Chicago Shimpo
Tohoku Update: Firsthand Reports by Americans

• Eight years after the great earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan, two Americans presented their firsthand reports in the Tohoku area. A local official from the disaster hit area of Miyagi Prefecture also spoke about recent recovery efforts and future plans. The event “Tohoku Update: What’s Being Done to Build a Positive Future – First-hand Insights on the Current Progress” was held March 11 at CHEZ in Chicago.
• Since 2012 the event has been annually organized by JETRO Chicago (Japan External Trade Organization), Consulate General of Japan in Chicago, Japan America Society of Chicago, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, and Chicago Sister Cities International Osaka Committee.

• This year, the event focused on Rob LoBreglio, Co-Founder and Vice President of Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. in Madison, Wisconsin, and Michelle Beshaw, Buyer and Merchandise Manager for the Brooklyn Museum.
• After listening to their presentations, Ralph Inforzato, Chief Executive Director of JETRO Chicago, said that their objective was, “to have American companies participate in Tohoku recovery, invest in Tohoku, and do business in Tohoku. The presentations were exactly what we want to do.”

LoBreglio to Bring His Craft Beer to Miyagi

About Rob LoBreglio

• Rob LoBreglio was making craft beer in his college years in New York as a hobby. According to Great Dane Pub’s website, he apprenticed at Triple Rock Brewery in California after completing his college education. Then he attended the Siebel Institute of Brewing Sciences in Chicago and ventured as far away as Siberia to find inspiration and beer enlightenment. Years of brewing experience has made him Brewmaster.

• LoBreglio and his co-founder opened Great Dane Pub in Madison, Wisconsin in 1994 and have expanded it to five locations. He said that necessities to a successful business were passion, friendships, and community. He has devoted himself giving back to communities.

Relation with Japan

• LoBreglio’s relation with Japan started through his brother John LoBreglio, who lived in Kyoto in the 1980s and 1990s and became Professor of Japanese studies at Oxford University in the UK.
• Tetsuya Kiyosawa, John’s friend, came to Madison to study English at a college, so LoBreglio met him and found that he was very much interested in everything about craft beer.

Mulling Business in Japan

• After Kiyosawa returned to Japan, LoBreglio and Kiyosawa had discussed possibility of doing some types of project together. As popularity of craft beer grew in Japan, they decided to think of the project more seriously.
• LoBreglio went to Japan and looked around the craft beer industry with Kiyosawa who has been working for Mother Binding which provides consulting services for nursery trees, fermenting materials, brewing, and others.
• LoBreglio said that they had passion, friendships, but no community.

Encountering Miyagi

• Just about a year ago, LoBreglio was contacted by JETRO, with whom he had connections since his 2014 visit to Japan. JETRO said that a delegation form Miyagi prefectural government would visit Great Dane Pub & Brewing. He met official from Miyagi and was told that certain subsidies would be available for foreign investments. He was interested in the incentives; however, there were significant challenges such as high taxes on beer, aggressive competition from large breweries, financial difficulties for a young business, and lack of good distribution system, especially, into Tokyo. But Miyagi’s incentives were still interesting for him.

• He went to Miyagi last year. Before he went there, Kiyozawa and he helped consult Matsumoto Brewery Co., whose size was similar to his plan in Miyagi. After finishing the work at Matsumoto, they went to Sendai City, capital of Miyagi. “I was very, very pleased to feel, it was a lot like Madison to me. It was young vibrant community that I saw was ready for our style of craft beer,” LoBreglio said. He thanked JETRO for introducing attorneys, accountants, realtors, and other people who would help him.

Chicafusa Mohri

• One of the most important encounters was Chicafusa Mohri, owner of the Akiu Winery
• Mohri, who was formally an architect, planned to develop a winery to activate the local economy. He thought that if he produced local wine then he could match it with local seafood and produce. He also thought that he could conduct green tourism programs to work with local farmers, fishermen, and corporations.
• Mohri started his plan with planting grape trees and finally overcame difficulties and opened the winery in 2015. His experiences greatly helped LoBreglio.
• Mohri is also a board member of the Akiu Tourism Factory, so he has been helping LoBreglio to find his pub location around main streets. Such a location is very expensive in Sendai City.

• LoBreglio is going to make Miyagi brand of craft beer and wants to expand his beer to Tokyo first, then other cities as long as everything goes well.

Washed Beer Shrine

• LoBreglio met many people in Miyagi and now feels Miyagi as one of his communities.
• There was a 500-year old Kashima Shrine near a beach of Ishinomaki City which was washed away by 2011 tsunami. It was called Beer Shrine because the people of the town had been offering beer instead of Japanese sake. The people have been trying to rebuild the shrine, but facing difficulties.
• LoBreglio met a community leader Naomi Sato and chief priest of the shrine and asked if they were interested in planting hops for beer. Later, Naomi sent a letter thanking him and said that farmers of the area were very much pleased to hear the new idea of hop growing. She also said that an old woman couldn’t stop crying because the townspeople were thinking that they had to give up rebuilding the shrine. Naomi had lost her husband in the tsunami and has been raising three children. She organized “We Are One in Kitakami,” and has worked for recovery efforts since 2011.
• The townspeople gave up reopening a beach where many people used to come for swimming, but few people came after the tsunami. They decided to hold a commemorative ceremony at the beach on July 14 every year, and about 500 people gathered last year.
• LoBreglio heard of the story and suggested another idea to combine the ceremony and a beer festival, so they can do fundraising for rebuilding the shrine. He is going to provide his craft beer at this year’s festival.

Visits of Michelle Beshaw

• Michelle Beshaw was invited to the Tohoku area last September and visited 10 artisans’ places including Ishinomaki Laboratory, Okurayama Studio, and Nitta Textile Arts.

Ishinomaki Laboratory

• Only four months after the great tsunami in 2011, local artisans and designers got together and opened Ishinomaki Laboratory in the center of devastated area to offer a place where the residents come together to talk to each other and could learn how to make furniture by using wood.
• One of pictures that Beshaw showed was a simple bench that was made by a team of high school students. They made more of the benches and used them at outdoor seminars.
• Artisans at the Laboratory have made simple, bold, and still heart-warming furniture. More images are available at

Okurayama Studio

• Okurayama Studio was opened in a mountain about 100 years ago for stone mining that offered jobs for local people when they were out of farming season. The stones were used for constructions and grave stones, but the unique feature of the stone, called Date Kan seki (stone), has attracted artists and sculptors for those decades.
• The fourth and fifth owners have built multipurpose salon, library, outdoor theatre, and stone towers and opened them to the public.

Nitta Textile Arts

• Nitta was opened in 1884 and has provided traditional safflower dyeing and textiles. The feature of Nitta safflower dyeing is its abundance of color from bright red to light pink. With combination of other dyestuff, Nitta produces more than 100 colors. Nitta also offers handloomed textiles even today.


• After touring 10 artisan places, Beshaw said that traditional Japan’s art is also very modern. She saw the artisans’ works during the long recovery process and their creative inspirations, “with their hands, with their hearts, with their passion, and it was extraordinary experiences,” she said.
• The Brooklyn Museum is going to reopen Japan exhibition after its renovation. “We look forward to showcase additional products from the Tohoku region,” she said.

About Miyagi Prefecture

• Yoshiyuki Koyano, Director-General for International Affairs, Business and Tourism Commerce, Industry and Tourism Department for Miyagi Prefecture Government, spoke about Miyagi.

• Miyagi is located in the northeast of Tokyo, about 90 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train.
• Its population is 2.31 million, and 27.3 % of them are in the 20s and 30s.
• Miyagi’s GDP is about $84 billion with 1.13 million of labor force population.
• Victims of the great earthquake and tsunami are 10,566 deaths and 1,225 missing as of May 31, 2018. The damage costs to housing and buildings were $83 billion as of February 28, 2018.


• Miyagi has entered its Development Stage from Reconstruction Stage (2014-2017) and aims to
• Invitation for Foreign Investments

• Miyagi’s Prosperous Vision is to make a GDP of $100 billion increased by foreign investment.
• Its major industries are high-tech electronics, automobiles, precision machinery, IT, fisheries, agriculture, food production, and more. In addition, Japan’s first synchrotron facility is coming on the campus of Tohoku University in 2023.
• Miyagi has excellent logistics, roads, rail networks, and direct flights to Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo and Osaka. It is also a hub for regional freight transport and has regular container services directly connecting North America, China, and South Korea.
• Miyagi’s strength is to offer young, highly skilled, educated workforces, and low operating costs.
• Miyagi has provided a variety of incentives for foreign investments. Detailed information about incentives is available at

Rob LoBreglio

A delegation from Miyagi Prefectural Government visits Great Dane Pub & Brewing in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo from LoBreglio's presentation)

Kashima Shrine near a beach of Ishinomaki City (Photo from LoBreglio''s presentation)

Michelle Beshaw

A wooden bench made by a team of high school students. (Photo from Beshaw's presentation)

Yoshiyuki Koyano

Japanese sake from the Tohoku area was introduced after the presentations.