Bartow's Japan-based businesses feel effects of quake, tsunami
by Matt Shinall
Mar 20, 2011 | 3002 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Japan-based manufacturers calling Bartow County home for all or some of their North American operations are dealing with personal and economical effects of the recent disaster in Japan.

The Associated Press reports that nearly 17,000 people are confirmed as either dead or missing in Japan as a result of the March 11 earthquake. A tsunami following the earthquake demolished buildings and entire villages as it moved several miles inland along the coastline of northeastern Japan. The crisis continues to unfold amidst rescue efforts as officials rush to contain a possible meltdown at a nuclear power plant currently emitting radioactive toxins.

Yanmar, Toyo Tire and Komatsu all have a significant presence in the local community, but their roots remain in Japan. These global corporations have each been affected -- some more than others -- by the magnitude 9 earthquake.

Yanmar, an international producer of industrial generators and engines for multiple sectors, has a manufacturing facility in Adairsville. Kazuki Kirino, division sales and business analyst for Yanmar Construction Division, has lived and worked in America for four years. Originally from Tokyo, his parents still are there as well as his sister now living in Sendai, the closest urban area to the epicenter.

"The first day, just after I got the news, it was very difficult to [make] contact, but the next day, I think it was Friday morning here I made contact [with my parents]," Kirino said. "They are doing well. In Tokyo, there was big earthquake, but there was no big tsunami, and my parents' house is far from the bay area and there was no problem."

In Sendai, Kirino's sister is safe as well. She was at work when the event took place. Their building was not damaged by the earthquake and was far enough from the coast to avoid the tsunami's wake.

"My sister was living in Sendai, the closest big city to the earthquake point," Kirino said. "She's working for a hospital and she stayed in the hospital. It was 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon and the earthquake was big, but then the earthquake shut down and the building itself is OK except for a couple busted walkways. The patients in ICU, they are OK, too. ... But in other areas of Sendai, close to the ocean, had big damage."

Kirino said the atmosphere in Japan is focused on recovery but panic and fear remains in the air. The biggest concern for him, and many others involved, is the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

"Of course I am very sad about the many people killed or missing by the tsunami, but also, I think the most critical issue is nuclear power plant and I know many Japanese people think so too," Kirino said. "Many people are scared and a little bit panicked and my parents are scared, too."

In Tokyo, many residents still are having to travel on foot as opposed to public transit or car as the country faces oil and gasoline shortages. Individuals are restricted to purchasing only 2 or 3 gallons of gasoline a day and shortages on food are present in some places, although Kirino attributes the Japanese culture and preparation for these situations not becoming widespread.

"I think the people are mentally prepared. They try not to take advantage by using this opportunity," Kirino said. "For example, my mother said she tried not to buy too much food, more than she needs. She didn't want to occupy more food than she needed. I think a lot of Japanese people have that kind of mentality, too."

The attitude of preparation prior to the disaster is one Kirino feels the rest of the world should heed. When asked about what Americans can do to aid those in Japan, Kirino said that resources may be better served protecting one's own family.

"I think it is important for us to prepare for the future. With what happened with nuclear power plants or the earthquake, we have other disasters here like tornadoes. I think it's important to prepare by looking at other people's disasters, too," Kirino said. "To protect your family is very important and I think that is in America's culture too. I think that type of mentality is great, and of course, it's great to reach out and help others but also in the future it could happen to you or me."

Another staple of the Japanese mentality when facing such a challenge is the mission of each individual not directly involved in the effort to continue working as normal to produce goods and add to the nation's recovery. Despite some supply shortages, Yanmar continues production at their Adairsville facility and Kirino sees his role in that production as a vital piece of the solution.

"I don't have any plans [to go over.] I have a job here and I have a responsibility here. I think also, we have to try and help as much as possible but as a manufacturer, we have to keep supplying the product. Normal activity is also important," Kirino said. "We have many customers here and keeping things running is our biggest mission and commitment I believe. For example, it seems big damage and I think it's true but Tokyo and western Japan, they are not damaged. To keep running Japan, the other areas have to keep working as much as usual, if not harder."

Yanmar, like many businesses, has made sizable donations despite having been affected by the disaster. Through monetary donations, construction equipment and power generators, Yanmar has contributed more than $1.2 million, according to a March 15 corporate release. The same release reported that 34 sales and distribution sites across the country have been damaged.

"Immediately after the earthquake, we established an emergency center in the Osaka head office and an on-site center in Sendai," stated Yanmar President Takehito Yamaoka in a prepared statement released Friday. "We have already sent a large amount of daily supplies, construction equipment and power generators."

Komatsu, a manufacturer of construction equipment with a training center in Cartersville, saw a number of their facilities damaged. According to a Friday press release, seven facilities were touched by the crisis. Even those that have not sustained direct damage are hampered by a crippled infrastructure, including roads and ports.

"We have confirmed the safety of all employees of the Komatsu Group. However, there are a few employees who cannot confirm the safety of their family members and relatives," stated a Friday Komatsu release. "We are making progress in repairs and inspection at our plants in the effected areas, and we are beginning to gradually resume production at these plants. ... However, we are anticipating that our procurement of parts and so forth will remain unstable in the next and following weeks."

Aiding relief efforts through various avenues, including free use of construction equipment, forklifts, temporary housing, power generators and other products owned and manufactured by Komatsu in addition to monetary donations, the company has given or promised a total assistance value of more than $980 million.

"Conditions of the effected areas are deteriorating day-by-day, and it is projected that reconstruction will take a long period of time. We are anticipating that we will continue to receive requests for equipment from the municipal governments," according to the Komatsu release.

Also establishing emergency crisis centers and aiding the relief effort, Toyo Tire, headquartered in Osaka, Japan, has a manufacturing facility in Sendai, near the epicenter. This plant, however, did not receive any reported damage in the earthquake or tsunami. Production has been halted since the disaster due to power outages but testing resumed Friday as limited energy was regained.

"Sendai factory will resume partial production activity next week," stated a Toyo release Friday. "Regarding tire production, the number of tire will be limited for the time being. Because factory in Sendai has faced the shortage of oil, raw materials and so on, and because truck transportation system in Japan has been troubled due to lack of fuel, many roads have been blocked by this disaster. The company will increase production quantity in accordance with such an infrastructure improvement."