Japanese Heroes: Hiroaki Yamaguchi

Posted on by Jin

As everyone knows, the earthquake that hit eastern Japan on March 11, 2011 was devastating. However, the efforts to restore ordinary life have already made tremendous leaps and bounds. These efforts are not happening “automagically.” There are real people moving their hands and feet to get things back in order.

One story was published on a Japanese business magazine about the efforts of Hiroaki Yamaguchi, CEO of truck rental company Hearts, and major Japanese convenience store chain Lawson.

Their decision

Traffic reports highlighted all roads in red on March 11

At the time of the earthquake, Lawson was holding a press conference to announce the release of their new candy line. Five minutes after the earthquake, Lawson had set up a task force.

Yamaguchi was outside, near his office. His company’s Rentora service provides rental trucks and drivers for businesses and end users. He checked the traffic reports and realized the severity of the situation.

A couple hours later, Yamaguchi received a call from Lawson. Lawson wanted to send an emergency relief effort to the disaster-stricken areas. No other trucking company was able to help. With rumors of the nuclear situation spreading, no one wanted to go.

Rentora had no available drivers, but that was not the case for trucks. Yamaguchi decided he would drive a truck himself. He accepted Lawson’s request. Lawson’s task force erupted into cheers.

What Yamaguchi saw

Yamaguchi arrived in Sendai, the nearest major city to the earthquake, on the 13th. Though the physical damage was limited, the very real effects of the earthquake quickly made themselves apparent. Convenience stores that could not stock their inventory closed. That day, only a quarter of Lawson’s stores remained open in the nearest three prefectures. Only one remained open in all of Iwate prefecture, an area a little larger than the state of Connecticut.

The next day, Yamaguchi drove back to Tokyo along with two friends who were in Sendai during the earthquake. They listened to earthquake reports on the national radio broadcast. Hearing the tremendous scale of the disaster, he could not hold back his tears.

“What can I do?” “Is there something I can do?”

Yamaguchi finally decided that he will make as many delivery trips necessary back to northeastern Japan, even if he had to make them for free.

By the 15th, the situation was improving. Three quarters of Lawson’s stores were opened. Lawson’s Miyagi prefecture established a route from their Kyushu branches to bring in fuel and recommenced manufacturing their products. Rice balls started lining the shelves again.

Life moves forward

The Lawson shop in Rikuzentakata was entirely annihilated

On his third trip, Yamaguchi went to Rikuzentakata. There, he was no longer delivering to convenience stores. He was delivering goods to rubble. The townspeople just stood staring at the destruction.

However, a manager at a local Lawson said simply, “People are strong.” Even without a store, he will keep the business going, holding a flashlight in hand.

Rentora offers free delivery to addresses within 30 km of the nuclear power plants in Fukushima. While the foreign press fuels fear of Japan’s nuclear situation, hurting Japan’s recovery, Yamaguchi and many others are taking steps towards recovery. Step by step, life returns to normal.

Source: Business Media Makoto


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