No.7 ,Culture  Aug 09, 2011


Yamato Transport resumed operations at an office with no gas or electricity. The driving force for quick recovery was in employees on site acting voluntarily. Their sense of mission as being part of a lifeline fed their motivation.

The Watanoha District is located close to the fishing port of Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture. A major supermarket nearby had been hit by numerous trucks carried by the tsunami, and a house that drifted there was empty of people. While the road was just barely cleared of debris, the area was largely in the devastated state the earthquake and tsunami had left it three weeks prior.

On April 1, in this area reduced to earth, the Yamato Transport Ishinomaki/Watanoha Center resumed operations. There were no electricity or gas supply, and nothing of the office remained but a roof.

Sign found from beneath the debris

In front of the office entrance
stood a small signboard with the office’s old name, “Ishinomaki East Office.” “The manager of the Ishinomaki Branch boasted that he had dug it out of the debris,” reveals Chida Naruhiko, Director of the Minato Center. As he worked busily, a loaded truck quietly awaited its dispatch beside him.

For 11 days until the Watanoha Center recovered, the Ishinomaki Hebita Center that resumed operations the earliest in Ishinomaki had filled in. Singlehandedly accepting shipments from five branch offices, the Center handled 3,000-3,200 packages a day, when a normal day was about 800. Yamato employees from Hokushinetsu and Kansai offices provided the Hebita Center with full support.

Abe Hiroshi, manager of the Ishinomaki Branch who found the Ishinomaki East Office signboard, says, “Whenever we make deliveries to a home or an evacuation camp we hear voices of joy. Logistics is infrastructure, like electricity and water.”

Employees voluntarily supplied fuel

Yamato Transport’s path to recovery had been a series of blind searches.

Though the company set up an emergency headquarters immediately after the quake, communications were down and they were barely able to confirm the status of their employees. They simply had to get information on the situation. On noon of March 13, an advance mission left the head office by car for Tohoku. Meanwhile, then President Kigawa Makoto and the company’s executives stationed themselves at the head office, finding out all the problems that each department faced and instructing employees.

Their urgent hopes to deliver to the disaster-hit areas as quickly as possible were met head on with the problem of fuel.

Yamato owns a subsidiary that operates its gas stations and fuel. Checking what remained of these, they found they only had about 70% of the total possible reserves, and the likelihood of fuel being continuously supplied was close to zero. Running vehicles in their usual way would run down the supply. In its normal service, a truck would make four rounds a day to and from the branch office, but this frequency had to be reduced and the minimum possible level needed to be maintained. The conclusion they reached was to forego service directly to customer homes and instead deliver to branch offices.

Another crucial challenge to resuming business was fuel for employee commutes, and the employees’ voluntary actions solved this problem.

An employee who was off from work would line up at a gas station for six hours to fill a car, and then go to pick up other employees going to work. Then a different employee who was off from work would take the car and get back in a gas station queue.

On March 21, Yamato managed to resume business at all but a few of 125 offices in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures. It resumed delivery service on the 23rd. In the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the company took 15-20 days to recover major branch offices in Hyogo Prefecture. Under more severe damage this time around, it were able to resume business in 10 days. According to Tahara Yoshikazu, Executive Director and Manager of the Tohoku Branch, this owes to “employees sensing their mission.”

Working together with the Japan Self-Defense Forces on relief supplies

Another story about the Relief Supply Transport Assistance Team that Yamato set up in the three disaster-hit prefectures illustrates the pride of Yamato’s drivers.

As time passed after the earthquake, differences in provision supply among evacuation camps became evident. This was when Yamato employees in the area took action. Drivers who knew their own areas in detail voluntarily delivered relief supplies to the smaller evacuation camps.

Photo : Murakami Akihiro
A service base in Kesennuma where the
Japan Self-Defense Forces and Yamato
worked together to deliver supplies to over
10,000 evacuees

Some drivers reportedly collaborated with other transporters in their deliveries. Okamura Tadashi, Director of the Management Strategy Division, who supervised the recovery actions at the head office, reveals, “I learned of their voluntary actions only when we conducted investigations on site.” To support their actions, Okamura immediately formed a Relief Supply Transport Assistance Team and announced that the group would offer full support in delivering provisions.

At the Seika Ichiba (produce market) in Kesennuma City, Miyagi, about 50 Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) troops and some 50 Yamato Assistance Team members worked together. The Seika Ichiba served as a temporary warehouse for stocking relief supplies. The JSDF shipped provisions from warehouses in Miyagi to Kesennuma, from which Yamato would deliver to the 90 some-odd individual evacuation camps within the city. Many people at home also needed relief supplies. Most of the JSDF troops at Kesennuma left the Seika Ichiba by mid-May, and the Yamato Assistance Team alone has continued delivering provisions since then.

Translated from “Genba-ryoku: Fukkyu sasaeta doraibah no kyoji-Butsuryu ha raifu-rain no hitotsu: June 27 2011, pp. 110-111. (Courtesy of Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.)