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“Something we can do as a Japanese company” 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake – Relay Column Vol.15

09 April 2021

“Something we can do as a Japanese company” 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake – Relay Column Vol.15

It has been 10 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. While the restoration has progressed with a ton of support from home and abroad, there is still a long way to go for a full recovery. Here we will deliver essays and columns of people involved in football, reflecting on their own experience and perspective on the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The 15th column will be based on the stories told by Mr. IKEDA Tomoyuki, Mr. KITAGAWA Yuhei, and Mr. NAKAGAWA Shunsuke, who were in charge of supply chain management for adidas Japan K.K. at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The great earthquake that struck Tohoku had a great impact on the metropolitan area far from the epicentre. On 11 March 2011, they vividly remember walking back home from the office since all public transportation were shut down. And it was a Friday. At the time, Ikeda Tomoyuki, Kitagawa Yuhei, and Nakagawa Shunsuke all belonged to the supply chain management department of adidas Japan. Immediately after the earthquake, the company instructed their workers to stay home. Still, some people were already returning to the office at the beginning of the week. It was no different for Ikeda’s team, as they were in charge of inventory management, which required them to be at the office to confirm various matters.

Unbelievable news came in one after another. With more information regarding the affected areas being revealed each day, they immediately understood that they were facing a national crisis. What should we do in times like this? Information was exchanged among the office. Eventually, the topic changed to “Is there anything we can do as a company?” Ikeda reflected on what was being talked at the time, "We are a manufacturer, so providing products to the disaster area may help. As a Japanese company, we all felt the need to do something to help the country, and that was where it all began.” On Monday the 14th, a mass email was delivered to the leaders of each department. The content was about material support for the disaster area. In Tohoku, mid-March still felt like midst of winter. The email contained a list of items that might be needed, such as warm clothing, gloves, and other small items such as towels.

They had to start by checking on their inventory, so they started by creating a list. However, that process did not go as smoothly as they wished. The warehouse that stored the goods were also damaged. Glasses were broken, sprinklers were activated, and the entire warehouse was flooded. Still, the manager in charge of the warehouse responded with dependable words, “Don’t worry about it, I will take care of this.” They knew that they didn’t have much time, as a story was brought up when Nakagawa was confirming the status of logistics with the manager in charge. Based on the experience of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in 1995, within a few days, the transportation of public goods to the affected areas will be prioritised, making it hard for them to deliver their goods to the affected area in a timely fashion. That is why they had to hurry their process. The logistics officer replied, “If we can get the shipping order by the end of today, we will do our best to make it happen.” Action had to be taken under an uncertain situation. There was only three hours left. They collaborated with the inventory managers of the outlet team to gather the items.

Nakagawa reflected on the situation, “What was in stock? How much items can be used as relief supplies? The outlet team also had to prepare the shipping documents in about an hour and a half.” The shipping order was given just before the deadline, on Tuesday 15 March. Fortunately, they acted quick enough, and the first supplies were distributed to various municipalities through each prefectural administration. However, administrations of the affected areas were soon swamped with supplies sent from all over the country. They were told that their second batch of items did not make it to the people of the affected areas. This got them thinking, “What can we do to deliver the supplies to the victims?” They came up with the idea of changing the shipping address. In order to do so, they obtained a list of departments in charge of each municipality, which allowed them to communicate directly with local authorities, and respond to more detailed needs.

While continuing with the support activities, difficult issues were brought up over time. Firstly, they had to determine how far the company should be involved. Secondly, they weren’t sure if the supplies they were sending were actually helping the people in the affected areas. And lastly, they weren’t sure if they were just conducting the activities for their own satisfaction. They continued to ask themselves if they were doing the right thing or not. However, they didn’t know that their moral dilemma would be answered soon. Initially, relief supplies started with warm clothing, but it changed to other goods according to the seasonal needs. Four or five months following the earthquake, football activities began to take place at the affected areas. FIFA President Sepp BLATTER and JFA President OGURA Junji worked together to donate 15,000 pairs of football shoes to the affected areas with the cooperation of adidas. A few years ago, a thank-you letter was delivered to their company. It was from a young man who was a junior high school student at the time of the earthquake. It was written that his school lost all football equipment to the tsunami, but because of the football shoes donated to his school, he was able to continue with his football career. It was written that he is now attending a university in Kanto, and that he is intending to continue to play football at his university. At the time they started the support activity, they weren’t expecting anything in return. However, it gave them a priceless feeling to learn that their activities have provided a person with a positive life choice.

Ikeda looked back on their activities and mentioned, “During the recent state of emergency, my children had to stay at home and couldn't play outside for months. With that in mind, it must have been much more difficult for the children in the affected areas at that time. I imagine that the children must have been so happy when they received the football shoes and were able to play football again.” Kitagawa also reflected on his experience, “We weren’t able to visit the site at the time, but we were able to see from news footages that our products were being worn by the children at the affected areas, and that made me veery happy.” Nakagawa continued by mentioning, “Our everyday lives can change suddenly. If the items that we sent were received and helped the lives of the affected people, I feel that our mission was a success.”

Even today, adidas Japan value their connection with the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. They sponsor a marathon event at Rikuzentakata city every year. Many letters of appreciation have arrived for their support activities, and there must be so many more people in Tohoku who are grateful for their involvement. People do not easily forget the gratitude to those who reach out in times of difficulty.

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