Two years after a tsunami devastated Japan’s northeast, GLOBIS MBA students embarked on a three-day tour of the region to see what’s changed, what hasn’t and the lessons that can be learned from the recovery effort. Christina Tsao shares her reflections.
After visiting Minamisanriku, Onagawa, Yamamoto and Sendai on the study trip to learn more in depth about the aftermath of the 3/11 earthquake in the short 3 days, I truly felt the power of the nature and what people will learn from this event. Out of all the places I visited, the town of Onagawa and the people there really stood out the most for me.
Onagawa, located in Miyagi Ken, historically had been a port town with a heavy reliance on its fishery industry. This town has a special geographic advantage as it is located right at the intersection of two major sea currents and this significantly increases the varieties of fishes to be caught in this area, which helped to flourish the fishery industry. On March 11, 2011, Onagawa lost close to 10% of its population that day, over 80% of the homes and shops were washed away by the tsunami.
We went to visit “El Faro”, a trailer house hotel business founded by Ms. Sasaki to provide housing for the volunteers and people traveling to Onagawa to help with the reconstruction of the town. Her business idea came from wanting to accommodate the people who came to her hometown to help out with the disaster relieve activities. She saw that the people had to travel 2 hours each way from Sendai every day because that was the closest lodging option to Onagawa and this triggered her business idea of starting a hotel business. She wanted to be able to take care of the visitors by providing a comfortable place to stay in Onagawa. With the help of Mr. Komatsu, they joint handedly secured the finance, fought through and acquired a business license to start a trailer house hotel and gathered local people to help with commerce, construction and the daily operations of the hotel.
What made them so great for me was that I saw the real life example of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” in El Faro. According to our conversations with the Onagawa city hall representative, the biggest hurdle in rebuilding the city lied in the zoning issue where the city decided that all residential areas would be on the mountain/higher land and the flat ground would strictly be commercial use. So, the city would need to have every resident’s consent on the location and the size of the new distribution of the higher land for their new residence. For this unpredictable future assignment of land, no one was willing to invest the money to build anything. Then, Ms. Sasaki and Mr. Komatsu found a way! They found trailer houses to be their hotel rooms! This way, it was transportable to the new location in Onagawa when they can finally have the decision on the zoning issue from the local government and they wouldn’t have to build anything on a foundation because trailer houses were all pre-built.
I really like the idea of a trailer house hotel for the visitors at a location where there’s no accommodation nearby. This is a great example of innovative thinking to create a business to serve a certain need spotted by the founder. I believe there are many opportunities in the Tohoku area; people just need to build trust, start investing and building businesses there. The next time I visit, I hope I will be able to add some value to the town, the people and the businesses of Onagawa.
My personal mission statement was to be able to help others in their process of achieving their personal mission statement; currently, I want to play an assistant role in building other’s dreams. I am not able to set my mind on 1 single mission yet, so I choose to help others who had made up their minds. But, after visiting Onagawa, I see a different way of playing the assist role. I can still be a leader, creator and innovator under a very big goal. I don’t have to follow someone’s path, but rather, I can create my own path towards the same goal. I can use my experience and knowledge I acquired from GLOBIS to help rebuild Onagawa in my own way. I see opportunities in that land and I see the people there need help. I want to be able to help the people who seek out for help with the ability I have and that’s my newly revised personal mission statement.