Japan beyond 3.11 Stories of Recovery

Corporate Volunteers in the Disaster Zone

This page is adapted from the original transcript of NHK’s TOMORROW, broadcast on September 18, 2014

Tomorrow Logo
Office employees

Employees of an office equipment manufacturer visit a medical clinic in a disaster-affected area.

Supporting community medicine

Their company has been supporting community medicine on a voluntary basis since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Developing a new information system

By developing a new patient information management system together with doctors, it has greatly contributed to local healthcare.


The volunteering effort continued by this food manufacturer has been improving the dietary life of people living in temporary housing.


“Everything’s delicious!”
(Keizo: Temporary housing resident)

Seiichiro Maehara

“If we did this alone, it would come to an end once we left, which would not be good. Our wish is to create a project run by and for the people living in this community. We’re just providing the chance for that to happen.”
(Seiichiro Maehara: Corporate Citizenship Associate General Manager, Ajinomoto)

Corporate Volunteers

Corporate volunteer assistance. In this program, we will find out what the companies have learned and developed and how the affected areas have been changed by their efforts.

Corporate Volunteers in the Disaster Zone
Increasing volunteers

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, large numbers of volunteers rushed to the disaster-affected areas. The total number was 950,000 in the year 2011 alone.

However, now(2014) that three and a half years have passed, the number has declined sharply. In place of the decreasing number of individual volunteers, it is corporate volunteers that are now attracting attention.

Today, Jason Hancock reports on their activities.

Jason Hancock

“When someone says ‘volunteer’, it has various meanings: it can mean anything from an individual volunteer to an NPO volunteer, or even a corporate volunteer. Today, we’ll find out how corporate volunteers are utilizing company resources to benefit those in need. I’d like to find out what they’re doing to make a difference today.”
(Jason Hancock: Reporter)


Yamada-machi, in the central part of Iwate Prefecture, is located on a ria coastline.

Fishing industry

The main industry here is fishing.

In this town with an aging population, many elderly residents live alone.

Jason visits Yamada-machi

Jason visits the temporary housing complex in the Funakoshi district of Yamada-machi. Around one hundred households reside here.


At eight thirty on Saturday morning, a truck arrives. It has been sent by a food manufacturer which has its head office in Tokyo.

The truck is loaded with things. But it does not look like just food supplies.

Kitchen preparations

Preparations have started… What is this silver equipment?

“What’s that?”
(NHK Staff)

Anywhere kitchen

“This? It’s called ‘Anywhere Kitchen’. You can extend or contract the ends just like this...

Water supply

A water tank is placed inside here right now. Actually, both a pressurized air cylinder and drainage can be installed so that you don’t need any water supply.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Cooking class

That is right. It is a portable cooking counter. Actually, a cooking class is about to start.

Volunteers from temporary housing

Ten thirty. Elderly male residents from the temporary housing start to arrive.

“Good morning."
(Elderly gentleman: Temporary housing resident)

“Nice to meet you.”

80 year old gentleman

The oldest is 80 years old.

Volunteers greet residents

“Good morning.”
(Volunteer staff)

Cooking class for men

This is the day for a cooking class that is held once a month. The students are all men.


Jason is an unexpected participant today. He claims to be comfortable with cooking.

Jason joins in

“Hello, everyone. Thank you for letting me join you today!”


“Today we’d like to introduce three simple yet very healthy recipes.”


The ingredients include several kinds of vegetables, such as eggplants, carrots, and broccoli. Today, they are going to try cooking Chinese-style sauteed vegetables and rice mixed with various ingredients to create a good nutritional balance.

Volunteer helps with the class

“Just like this. I’m not going to do it all.”

The first part of the lesson is how to cut up vegetables.

Elderly gentlemen learn how to cut veg

Before the disaster, none of these men had ever cut vegetables in their lives. But now just look at how smoothly they handle a kitchen knife!

Well, it is not surprising, really: this is the 30th cooking class!

Shigeo, temporary housing resident

“Well, I’ve done it 30 times!”
(Shigeo: Temporary housing resident)

“Practice makes perfect, doesn’t it?”

Jason compliments the residents

“Everyone’s really good.”

This man seems to be an expert at slicing up carrots.

Jason has a go with the eggplants

Jason does not want to be outdone! He is put in charge of the eggplants.

Shigeo is a skilful cook

How do you rate his ability?

“It’s good!“
(Keizo: Temporary housing resident)

“So your cooking must be appreciated.”

His smile suggests he thinks he is better than Jason.


This cooking class is in fact a volunteering activity conducted by the food manufacturer. There is no fee for either participation or the ingredients.


The project leader is Seiichiro Maehara, who had to face various difficulties until the cooking class got off the ground.

Before the earthquake

Before the earthquake, he was exclusively engaged in sales, with no relation to cooking classes. But four months after the earthquake, he was sent alone to the affected area as the advance party for the company’s recovery assistance.


When he arrived in the disaster area for the first time, in July 2011, he was left speechless by what he saw.

Maehara after the quake

“At first, I was really shocked. I felt there was nothing I could do because it was just too terrible. I couldn’t see anything for a company like us to do.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Maehara's notebook

He recorded his thoughts at that time in his notebook.

Notebook extract

‘How much will I be able to do?’

Relief supplies

His first assignment was the delivery of relief supplies, including seasonings and instant coffee.

Maehara at work

While delivering those items to temporary housing complexes in various districts, however, he realized there was a major problem.

Helping elderly residents

The reality was that increasingly more people were not cooking by themselves.

“I asked them to describe their current eating habits. Most of them used to have families with 7 or 8 members, so they’ve always cooked for large numbers. Today, they’re living just as a couple, or alone since their spouse was washed away. So they’ve stopped cooking because they don’t know how to cook any more.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Small kitchens

One reason for people turning away from cooking lay in the smallness of the kitchens in the temporary housing units.


The cutting board had to be placed over the sink, and the only place to put a pot in the middle of cooking was in front of the bathroom.

No space

“There’s nowhere else to put it, you see. So I have to use this. I sometimes put things over here. But then I bump into them when I go by, you see.”
(Temporary housing resident)

“The gas range is right next to the sink. Normally, there’s a countertop for preparation in between the sink and the gas range. But that’s missing, which is discouraging.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Unbalanced diet

The people living in the temporary housing were living on pot noodles and other ready-made meals, resulting in an unbalanced diet.

Everywhere Kitchen volunteers

Maehara planned the cooking class in an attempt to overcome these problems.

Yamada-machi Social Welfare Council

What kind of class would be the best to encourage people to start cooking meals again?

As he was wondering about this, Maehara received some timely advice. It came from a member of the Social Welfare Council, which served as the contact point for the support activities of volunteers in the disaster-affected area.

Mayumi Sasaki

Mayumi Sasaki is the one who gave him the advice.

Sasaki visits volunteers

She is in charge of counseling local residents on their life and welfare. A regular visitor to the elderly residents, she is well aware of the problems they face.

Mayumi Sasaki

“We received a huge volume of canned foods as aid supplies. We ended up having so much that we actually didn’t know how to consume it all. So, I asked him to come up with some recipes using those canned foods because every household had them.”
(Mayumi Sasaki: Yamada-machi Social Welfare Council)

Corporate volunteers assemble

Maehara gathered employees of affiliated companies to form a support team.

Volunteers in the kitchen

To provide a well-balanced menu using canned foods, the team chose pumpkin and tuna salad.

Dishes with canned food were popular

Their dishes using canned foods were extremely well received.

Many male volunteers

For the people in the affected area, it was the first occasion to demonstrate their cooking skills in a long time, and many women were very eager to do it.

But Maehara noticed something. ‘There are hardly any men here.’


“What worried us most was that especially those elderly men who had lost their jobs or their wives had naturally lost their will to live. They looked as if they didn’t care about anything anymore or thought their life was meaningless. I strongly felt that those men were really losing sight of their goal because they were jobless or had lost someone for whom they wanted to work and make a living.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Seiichiro Maehara's diary

Seiichiro Maehara's diary

This is his diary two months after he took up his new post.

Maehara's observations

He noted that men were showing a tendency to shift from social withdrawal to alcohol dependence.

‘I want to be of some help as a corporate volunteer.’ Just one month after the first cooking class, the cooking class for men was opened.

Volunteers wait for residents

A good turnout was anticipated, but in fact only three men appeared.

There was a reason behind this which is typical of Japanese men.

Mayumi Sasaki

“They were reluctant to join a group like that. Men tend to be like that. In particular, many fishermen refused to participate.”
(Mayumi Sasaki: Yamada-machi Social Welfare Council)

Pacific saury

Many of the men were fishery-related. In order to have the shy, silent old men of the sea open up their hearts, Maehara came up with a secret idea.


“Pacific saury...I realized the fish is caught in abundance in this area in the autumn. So rather than worrying about difficult subjects such as nutrition, how about just eating saury together and become cheerful again just like in those happier times? That was the original concept.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)


The staff prepared various dishes, such as saury fish ball soup.


The men were very pleased, and the number of participants in the cooking class gradually increased.


But Operation Saury was only one of the reasons for the increase. Another was Maehara’s personality.

“Mr. Maehara’s a white-collar worker. And the elderly fishermen found out he didn’t even know how to sharpen a knife! He said to them, ‘Please teach me!’, which made them so happy. They looked so proud when they were teaching him how they cut up the fish. And he said to them, ‘You’re amazing! Next time, I’ll bring my own knife. Could you teach me how to sharpen it?’ While I was watching all this I was thinking, ‘Well, well, he’s a really smart guy!’”
(Mayumi Sasaki)

Cooking class

The cooking class for men set up by this food manufacturer has been a great success. The number of regular participants has increased.

Cooking class

“We have to do this kind of project in a manner that’s appropriate to each specific community. First, we have to communicate with them properly and discover their feelings, the real situation, and the problems they face in their community. We thought we could only focus on whatever we could do once we had grasped all that.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Jason with residents

The range of dishes presented at the cooking class has steadily expanded.

At first the menu focused on fish, but today it includes plenty of seasonal vegetables as recommended by a national registered dietician. And the elderly male members have come to treasure the monthly class.

One elderly resident

“In short, it’s given us something to live for. Through the cooking lessons!”
(Kato: Temporary housing resident)

All delicious

“Which of today’s three dishes do you like best?”

“They’re all delicious!”
(Keizo: Temporary housing resident)

Jason chooses his team

“I’ll join your team!”

Volunteers and residents

Cooking classes like these have already been held 845 times in various locations in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

Jason with Maehara

“I’m sure this is an idea only you could have come up with.”

“No, that’s not true.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

“It was beyond your work duties. I feel you really have the volunteer spirit.”

“Previously, our business associates were limited to those who buy and sell things, such as people in the product sales channels, including supermarkets and convenience stores. Before starting this project, we’d had no contact with any public offices, the Yamada-machi Social Welfare Council, or the Eating Habits Improvement Promotion Council. Now we have a network including all of them, so we know in which kind of environment the socially vulnerable people are, how they think, and what kind of reality they’re facing. That’s the greatest merit we’ve obtained, I think.”
(Seiichiro Maehara)

Maehara at work

The food manufacturer intends to continue the classes until all the temporary housing complexes have been closed.


Three and a half years after the 3.11 earthquake (2014), many companies continue their support of the disaster-stricken areas.


Among them is an office equipment manufacturer that created a new product in tandem with their ongoing support activities.

Kamaishi City

Kamaishi City in Iwate Prefecture has been the focus of that support since six months after the earthquake.

There are many elderly residents, and there was a growing need for home healthcare before the earthquake. However, all five of the city’s hospitals were affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Dr. Naohiro Terada

Dr. Naohiro Terada was the first to revive the home healthcare system.

Terada at work

He visits and treats about 15 patients a day.

(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

“The doctor’s come to see you.”

Terada with staff

Home healthcare has to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Kamaishi doctors and nurses who were providing it were facing a big problem.

Home healthcare has to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Kamaishi doctors and nurses who were providing it were facing a big problem.

Dr Naohiro Terada

“For example, patients would call us to say they were not well, and explain their condition. At night, a nurse would answer the phone at the clinic. There was no way for us doctors to get details such as the patient’s address, medical history, and medications prescribed for recent symptoms unless we went back to the clinic. So we’d get up, go to the clinic, and check the medical records to decide if a house call was required or not. If it was, we’d go to see the patient by car. That’s the way it used to be.”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada: Kamaishi Family Clinic)

Medical staff

That problem was solved by the employees of the office equipment manufacturer who had been visiting the area to support its recovery.

Staff at work

They developed a patient information management system for use on mobile tablets.

The system has proved to be an essential tool for home healthcare.

Patient information system

In a home healthcare system, patients are supported by medical staff in various fields, including doctors, caregivers and pharmacists. Conventionally, the medical information collected in each situation was recorded on paper and managed separately at each venue.

New system

But with the new system, all that paper-based information is digitized and classified for each and every patient. By installing this system on to mobile tablets with a completely secure environment, the information has become available for medical workers to see anytime, anywhere.

“Now we can download medical records from outside the clinic, check them, and give appropriate instructions from home. Or we can provide suggestions by means of a direct phone call to the patient.”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

Doctors and nurses like the new system

The system has been very well received by doctors and nurses alike.

Takako Yorimatsu

“On our house calls, we cover around 10 houses on one route. So we used to have to carry at least 10 separate medical records. Now there’s no risk of losing any of them, which I think is a very good point.”
(Takako Yorimatsu: Nurse)

Tokyo headquarters of the developer

The system was developed by a Tokyo-based office equipment manufacturer. Their main product is multi-functional equipment combining copying and faxing functions.

Development staff

Since June 2011, the company has been renting out multi-functional equipment free of charge to support medical institutions affected by the earthquake.

Consulting with medical staff

While maintaining the equipment, they listened to doctors and nurses talking about home healthcare problems. To tackle those problems, they started thinking of how they could make use of their expertise in scanning and digitizing documents.

Takefumi Miyata: Fuji Xerox

“We had technologies for documenting both paper and electronic information. So what if we digitized all the paper records so that they could be checked even at night? Could we make some kind of contribution to the local residents in this way? That was the idea we came up with.”
(Takefumi Miyata: Innovative Revitalization Office, Fuji Xerox)

Visiting Dr Terada

They visited Dr. Terada every week for two and a half years in order to develop a new patient information management system.

Debris removal activities

In fact, since 2011, the office equipment manufacturer has sent over 400 employee volunteers to the affected areas to remove debris and build aquaculture rafts.

Document cleaning activities

Not only that. They have also been providing various forms of help utilizing their expertise.

Register of graduates

In cooperation with an NPO group, they carried out the cleaning of documents recovered from the debris.

Jason and Ryota Takami

Ryota Takami participated in that work.

Ryota Takami

“Well, when I saw all those smeared documents in front of me, I don't know why, but I reckoned I just had to do it! I had to clean them!”
(Ryota Takami: Fuji Xerox)

The document cleaning process

They cleaned many precious documents, such as school registers.

First they soaked the documents in water and carefully removed dirt with a brush. Then they dried them.

Clean documents

Before being returned to the owner, each cleaned document was digitized by scanning using the company’s equipment so that the data could be kept safely more or less forever.

Scanning documents

The scanning function of their equipment also played an important role in developing the patient information management system.

Dr Terada with a patient

“The results of your last blood test were good. No problems at all.”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

Jason with Dr Terada

The system was completed and came into operation in October 2013. Dr. Terada explains the system to Jason.

“These are the tablets with medical records we take with us on house calls.”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

“The patients’ information is all stored here?”

“Yes. The nurse downloads the data for the patients we’re visiting the next day.”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

Checking medical records digitally

Using this system, even staff on emergency standby at home can now access the patient information.

Besides the medical records input by the doctors, the tablet carries all other information related to the patient, including nursing care records and examination data, which can be checked in chronological order.

Dr Terada on a home visit

“Hello, how are you?”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

Dr Terada at work

The medical staff who have people’s lives in their hands say the establishment of a system enabling patient information to be checked at any time has given them a real sense of security.

Dr Terada

“It goes without saying that the final result, I mean the system itself, was tremendous, but there was more than that. During its creation process, they spent so much time holding training sessions and educational workshops, and providing support whenever we had problems. They really gave us very strong backup.”
(Dr. Naohiro Terada)

Jason with Fuji Xerox staff

An ideal solution was found by grasping the needs of the medical field and applying the company’s technological capabilities to meet them.

What motivated the team to carry out the development?

Fuji Xerox staff

“I’d say the doctor’s great commitment.”
(Yoshiyuki Munakata: Innovative Revitalization Office, Fuji Xerox)

“Yes, there was of course the doctor’s commitment first of all. In a way, we simply followed it, trying to think if there was any way we could respond to it. And I also feel that the staff at Kamaishi Family Clinic and we at Fuji Xerox shared the same viewpoint, which means we all wanted to pursue a sense of security for the patients.”
(Takefumi Miyata: Innovative Revitalization Office, Fuji Xerox)

Jason meets Kunishi Higuchi

The system was developed by the ‘Innovative Revitalization Group’ that was established six months after the earthquake. They have now started operating the new system in other districts as well.

Kunishi Higuchi

“We identify the local community issues like these, and consider how we can help to solve them utilizing our corporate expertise. That’s our way of providing reconstruction assistance activities for people suffering from the Great East Japan Earthquake. The outcome from our activities can be sold in other regions or lead to the development of new technology or programs that can be used in other regions. This encourages the company to be involved in sustainable volunteer activities.”
(Kunishi Higuchi: Chief of Innovative Revitalization Office, Fuji Xerox)

Jason summarises

“As I was able to see the many, many various efforts done by the corporate volunteers, I have to admit that my image of a volunteer has changed. Now it actually has changed to an image of working together and working with each other to rebuild. I found that corporate volunteers are benefitting beyond the framework of just the supporters and the supported.”

Corporate volunteering assistance will also come to an end someday. That is why these companies are thinking and moving forward together now with community residents in the affected areas. The aim is to build the foundations for a better quality life that they can maintain themselves.

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