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Global Japan
MAY 30, 2013

Four lessons for Sustainable Business in Japan beyond 3/11

By Steven Neo Say Bin
iStock photo/arthobbit

The GLOBIS Japan Study Tour took a group of MBA students up to the Tohoku region to see how local businesses are rebuilding after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The group met with passionate individuals in Sendai, Minami-sanriku, Onagawa, Shiogama, and Yamamoto, all of whom were using their expertise to rebuild their communities. They imparted four important lessons about creating a sustainable business plan.

1. Be realistic: plan strategically and prioritize

During a visit to a local aqua farm in Minami-sanriku, the local fishermen explained the regulatory limitations that restricted their farming capacity. Although they have plans to increase their revenue streams by promoting blue tourism in the region, their business initiatives are limited by the speed of reconstruction in the surrounding areas.

These views were echoed by the mayor of Onagawa, where limited resources are prioritized to help reconstruct essential facilities for the local community before embarking on business investments. This prioritization has kept the mayor realistic about reconstruction – his target is to restore the population to pre-tsunami levels (approximately 10,000 people).

2. Trust and involve everyone

Administrators of the Onagawa collaborative school by Katariba show a unique willingness to involve the students in the design of the study room. The students appreciate the responsibility and take it seriously, not only designing an impressive layout that maximizes available space, but also setting up rules and regulations for appropriate behavior in the study room.

3. Think creatively to solve challenges

The story of how Ms. Sasaki and Mr. Komatsu built the Hotel El Faro in Onagawa was one of creativity and passion in the early stages of a business venture. They used trailer houses as a creative solution to a regulatory restrictions which prevented them from constructing permanent buildings in the area. IKEA furniture, mixed with local materials, kept the furnishings to minimal costs while also providing an authentic aesthetic appeal.

4. Choose the right markets to enter

The General Reconstruction Association (GRA) has a strawberry farm in Yamamoto that serves as a perfect marriage between traditional farming expertise and modern technological initiatives. The result? Delicious strawberries.

The farm aims to start exporting to Asian markets, such as Singapore and Thailand, where consumers’ willingness to pay for made-in-Japan premium strawberries is much higher than other markets.

Mother Nature can be cruel at times, but in the wake of destruction come opportunities. Students at the Onagawa collaborative school have a positive perspective on the tsunami. For them, it enabled the community to strengthen its bonds and create a better environment for everyone. The warmth of the people in Tohoku is everywhere, as are their passion and resolve to help their communities thrive despite any obstacles. With any luck, this spirit will spread, providing a model for communities across the globe.