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JUN 10, 2013

Beyond 3/11: When there is a will, there is a way

By Ernest See Ern (施恩)

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. Ernest See shares his reflections.

In 2011, a tsunami devastated the region of Tohoku. Triggered by an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale, it resulted in almost 16,000 lives lost and countless others were directly or indirectly affected.

I spent 5 days from 22nd April 2013 visiting various places in the Miyagi Prefecture and the scale of destruction varied widely from places along the coast like Onagawa which lost most of its industries and residential units as well as many lives, and Matsushima where buildings were mostly untouched. However not only were lives lost, but livelihoods have vanished, and from a business standpoint, there is little value left… or is there?

At Matsushima:

“A Nation without People is but a piece of land.”

While I was wandering around in Matsushima Bay, it struck me that while the buildings were all intact, shops remained closed and toll booths to the islands (a tourist attraction) were shuttered with their gates left open. I only encountered one local walking dog, and a group of 4 other Japanese as I walked around the central park by the seaside… and here it struck me that though the devastation was shocking with entire towns flattened and cleared, a town normally filled with tourists and locals being eerily empty was a reflection of the actual damage the Tsunami did.

While the physical structures at Matsushima were largely undamaged, the very foundation of the local economy was swept away. Recalling the countless times our Venture Facilitator Dr. Mark Ford has drummed into us about identifying our business model, it struck me that these people here suddenly would have had to adapt quickly or pray that Japan Rail re-establishes regular train services to the station to bring back the tourists.

El Faro, Onagawa:

“When there is a will, there is a way.”

Onagawa was in ruins, and recovery was only at the stage of clearing away the rubble to date. Before the El Faro Hotel was established, workers had to travel hours by bus from the nearby cities to reach Onagawa, while the efforts of Ms. Sasaki and Mr. Komatsu are commendable as it is to obtain the permits and set up the operations, what truly struck me was the level of involvement they had with the local businesses.
GLOBIS has a variety of courses that centers on Corporate Values, Philosophy and Social Involvement, and as I was told how the “If we can get it from here, we get it from here” approach was done, it reminded me of how especially in Japan many companies focus on not only providing for their employees, but also seek to help the community around them. While it was true that some of the designs and components were mismatched and a tad garish for my taste, but it does reflect how an effort by many small businesses could come together and make it work.


Over the week that I spent in the various parts of the Tohoku region, I had seen the faces of countless of people who have experienced a nightmare which continues to date for most. Despite the countless of weary eyes that I have beheld, there is always a steeled sense of determination. Here their words resonated with my personal mission, and that is to create a better society for the coming generations.

I would think that one of the greatest gifts that I’ve received during my MBA at GLOBIS would be the gift of awareness. By finally being more able to see things at a global scale, and to better appreciate the harsh nuances of the world outside my own, and when I was finally able to see up close and interact with the recovery efforts was I truly able to appreciate how blessed we are to be alive. This serves as a reminder that the world is truly out there, and that the world will keep moving even if we don’t.

There will be other incidents that will grab headlines as time goes on, and despite the outpouring at the loss of lives at the moment of the disaster such as Haiti in 2010, Tohoku in 2011, we should never forget that people still suffer to date, and that there are some who suffer in silence without their voices ever reaching the media… even if we don’t hear them, it doesn’t mean they are not suffering.

“We weep for a bird’s cry, but not for a fish’s blood. Blessed are those with a voice.”
– Mamoru Oshii