It was a balmy day in early March, and fisherman Takeshi Koyanagi was mending his nets on the beach after a recent outing. The day had progressed like so many others before it, in the reasonably predictable schedule of his trade.
Steeped in the fisherman tradition from youth, 64-year-old Koyanagi has relied on the ocean for food and income nearly his entire life. Born and raised in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, in the northeast of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, he graduated from junior high school in 1963 and immediately started crewing on a 39-ton wooden vessel, plying the local waters for the formidable tuna.
He moved on from tuna fishing at the age of 58 and bought a smaller, three-ton boat of his own. With this boat, he began gill-net fishing for more mild-mannered quarry such as cod and sole. That March outing, though, threatened to be the last of his fishing days. As he finished repairing his nets, the ground beneath him began to tremble.
On March 11, at 2:46 p.m. local time, a 9.0-magnitude struck off the coast of Miyagi prefecture. It was the most intense earthquake Japan and the fifth largest the world had ever experienced since modern record keeping began in 1900.
“I could have hopped in the boat and headed out into the ocean,” Koyanagi says, sharing a piece of common knowledge among local fisherman on how to save a boat from a tsunami. But he quickly thought of his father, who was living with him, and ran inland to his home. He and his father then hurried up a hill to safety.
Shortly thereafter, a massive tsunami came into Koyanagi’s view, first jostling, and then overwhelming the boats moored in the harbor. The waters quickly consumed his boat and encroached with ferocious momentum into residential and commercial areas, flooding homes, cars, seafood processing factories, and everything else in its path.
Fishing communities like Koyanagi’s across the Tohoku region suffered significantly. In Miyagi prefecture alone, more than 8,100 boats were lost to the tsunami. Throughout the entire region, this number is estimated at 54,000.
According to the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, damages to fishing industries exceeded 70% of the country’s total production amount of JPY 1.4 trillion (USD 17.2 billion; EUR 13 billion).
“As long as there is a boat, there is hope”
After the disaster, the SAP Solidarity Fund began calling for donations to aid in Japan’s recovery. SAP Japan’s CSR TEARS (Tohoku Earthquake Aid and Relief Strategy) team, working together with SAP Germany and the SAP Americas CSR teams, helped the SAP Solidarity Fund to identify a suitable project toward which the donations were to be applied. (See next page for more information on these organizations).
Ultimately the teams chose a boat donation program run by NGO Operation Blessing International (OBI), a U.S.-based organization committed to the support of Japanese fishing communities devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Representatives from SAP Japan’s CSR TEARS team together with staff from OBI officially presented the small fleet to fishermen in a traditional launching and donation ceremony on March 10, just before the first anniversary of the tragedy. Koyanagi was one of the 10 recipients.
Nahoko Oku of SAP, who heads up the CSR TEARS initiative and attended the ceremonies, says, “I wish everyone who contributed to make this donation possible could have been there with us. It was a gift to see the smiles on the fishermen’s faces.” One of the fishermen, 65-year old Hiroo Sato, took Nahoko for a ride in his new boat. While out on the water, she was astounded to learn from him that it was the first time he had steered a boat since the tsunami.
“As a Japanese colleague working for a global company, I feel proud that we were able to utilize our global and local recourses to help improve people’s lives,” Nahoko says.
From donations made to the CSR TEARS initiative, the SAP team at the ceremonies was also able to bring traditional rice cakes known as mochi. The cakes are used during traditional launching celebrations, known as Mochimaki, at which the new owners shower attendees with the cakes as a symbol of joy and good fortune.
In commenting on the donation, Tomitaro Anzai, President & Representative Director of SAP Japan said, “I would like to sincerely thank SAP Japan employees as well SAP employees all over the world for their heartfelt support in response to last year’s earthquake and tsunami. SAP Japan will continue to engage in CSR activities that help those in the affected areas to regain confidence and to fill their lives once again with hopes and dreams.”
“The people of Japan continue to demonstrate resilience and resourcefulness as they contend with the lasting effects of the previous year’s earthquake and tsunami,” says Werner Brandt, SAP CFO and Chairman of the SAP Solidarity Fund. “On behalf of SAP employees, who have contributed so generously to the SAP Solidarity Fund, we are honored with the opportunity to support Japan’s efforts to rebuild and recover.”
Satoshi Shimizu, the member of the staff at NGO OBI who made the arrangements to donate the boats says, “As long as there is a boat, there is hope, so they say. These fiserhmen are all very grateful to SAP.”
When asked what kind of fish he plans to catch with his new custom vessel, Koyanagi pauses and responds in a quiet voice, “First, I have to clean up the debris.” Much of the area’s waters are still brimming with rubble deposited by the tsunami. Koyanagi’s efforts show that those hit hardest by the tragedy must persevere just to get back to where they started from.
Remembering the tragedy
Over the past several days, the world has commemorated the victims of this tragedy. Japan continues to reflect on its loss.
Over 120,000 homes were completely destroyed, according to the National Police Agency, while nearly 250,000 more were damaged. Over 300,000 evacuees from the disaster are still accommodated in shelters.
The government concluded that in total the disaster wreaked havoc in an amount between 16 and 25 trillion Japanese Yen (USD 197- 308 billion; EUR 148 – 231 billion).
And the most chilling toll of all: more than 15,000 perished from the disaster. Over 3,000 are still unaccounted for.
To Nahoko, rebuilding is more than merely reconstructing a building where it once stood. And, she admits, it is more than simply replacing a boat. Although these measures help and are appreciated, rebuilding Japan, she feels, is an act of healing, a return to self-sufficiency and independence.
The SAP Solidarity Fund was founded in 2001 as a response from German SAP employees to the September 11 attacks on the U.S. The mission of the fund is to provide rapid assistance to those who suffering from disasters. So far, the SAP Solidarity Fund has supported 33 aid projects with more than EUR two million
SAP Japan’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) office also organized a program after the tragedy by which SAP Japan employees sent supplies to relief shelters in Miyagi prefecture. In total, employees of SAP Japan provided over 200 boxes of emergency supplies. Seeing this overwhelming response, SAP Japan established a team named Tohoku Earthquake Aid and Relief Strategy (TEARS). The team continues to provide relief to the victims of the Tohoku earthquake, supporting donation programs such as the SAP Solidarity Fund.
The donation ceremonies were covered by the major U.S. network NBC in its program NBC Nightly News. Local fishermen, representatives from OBI, as well as the SAP boats themselves, were featured in the broadcast. (Note: video may not be viewable from some SAP locations.)
All photos in this article are from SAP.