Executive Committee March 2013

Tohoku: Back to Business

How our B2B initiatives help quake-hit communities

It has been two years since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that wreaked havoc in the north-eastern region of the country and shook the rest of the eastern coastline, causing buildings in Tokyo to sway.

The triple disaster captured headlines around the world and images of it were rapidly communicated by media, Facebook and YouTube.

The British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) and the British Embassy Tokyo worked quickly to assemble a taskforce to gather and disseminate factual and measured information to British people and the wider community in Japan. The shared information helped restore a degree of calm to residents and their families overseas.

The images of Tohoku gradually disappeared from the front pages of the world’s newspapers, and were replaced by current newsworthy events. For the BCCJ, however, this was a time of increased focus on how to help the devastated communities of Tohoku recover.

The BCCJ Back to Business Task Force, ably led by BCCJ President Emeritus Philip T Gibb OBE and Executive Director Lori Henderson MBE, and bolstered by the BCCJ’s Social Responsibility Task Force head, Yayoi Sogo, looked for ways to bring relief to the local communities under their B2B Initiative.

Rather than raising money for charities, the BCCJ B2B Task Force decided that it wanted to help the people of Tohoku to establish sustainable businesses that would meet the immediate needs of the community.

The BCCJ raised over ¥8.3mn for B2B through its various initiatives, including chamber events, joint events with the British Embassy Tokyo, as well as through the generous donations of individual and corporate members.

A feature of the B2B Initiative was the close collaboration between the BCCJ and on-the-ground non-profit organisations and other charitable foundations.

Through this network, it was possible to quickly identify the local needs of a community and assess the long-term sustainability of various proposals and requests for assistance.

What has been the result of this BCCJ B2B Initiative after two years? Below are some of the projects that have been realised.

• Onagawa Peace Boat Central Kitchen—funded plumbing of the Peace Boat kitchen, which provided 2,000 meals per day to survivors and volunteers.
• Ichigo Café—funded equipment for eight cafés that provided a meeting place for farmers and business owners in a pleasant environment.
• Funakoshi fishermen—funded and installed freezers, providing a facility for the supply of fresh fish.
• Utatsu tented market—funded the setting up of shops close to remote temporary housing facilities.
• Izushima Fishing Union—funded three outdoor generators to supply lights for night fishing.
• Hakuba Scottish Festival—sponsored 20 students from Tohoku to attend the festival.
• Minamisanriku Green Farmers’ Association—funded construction of greenhouses for the production of fresh, inexpensive vegetables.
• Ukishima Sculpture Studio—funding of the internationally acclaimed Postcards to Japan and Postcards from Japan exhibitions.
• Watalis Organization—funded the procuring of sewing machines and raw materials, as well as the provision of lessons to enable women in the community to learn new skills.
• Izushima Fukubukuro—funded provision of sewing machines for the production of bags and coasters for sale in Tokyo shops and restaurants.
• Ishinomaki Bakery—funded the purchase of a bread slicer for PAO bakery.
• Ishinomaki Citizens’ Market—funded cooling rooms for fishermen to sell prepared meals and deli items to hundreds of customers each day.
• Peace Boat Volunteer Center—provided funding for the refurbishment of four containers to be used as stock rooms.
• Onagawa Chamber of Commerce—provision of solar panels to provide electricity for shopping and student studies.
• Aizumisato-machi—worked with KVH Co., Ltd. to provide a community centre for children in temporary housing complexes.
• NPO Katariba—provided office supplies and equipment for a night school in Onagawa.
• Farming equipment in the Watari area—a collaborative effort with the local government, local people and 350 farmers to develop fruit cultivation in the area.

Many of the initiatives listed above were small in scale, but they have all helped communities in the Tohoku area to start regenerating their businesses and livelihoods.

Through the generosity of its members, the BCCJ has made a real difference in the lives of some of those affected by the triple disaster. With the tenacity and determination of the people of Tohoku, these initiatives are helping the region get back to business.