NRI supports reconstruction efforts in Kumamoto prefecture and the town of Mashiki. Two NRI employees have been staying at Mashiki town hall since June 2016 to help draft the reconstruction plan. The plan was completed in December 2016, but they have stayed to help implement it. In this interview we talked with Tetsu Nakamura, one of the two NRI employees, regarding his thoughts about the reconstruction aid in Mashiki Town.
(Top photo, from left to right: Mr. Yoshikawa, Mashiki Town Reconstruction Section; Kentaro Onuma, Social System Consulting Department; Tetsu Nakamura, Public Project Department. All positions are according to the photograph's date.)
The project started without specifics on what kind of aid NRI could offer
Two huge earthquakes (up to 7 on the seismic scale) shook Kumamoto prefecture on April 14 and 16, 2016. Immediately after the earthquakes, NRI made the decision to offer aid for reconstruction efforts in Kumamoto prefecture and its cities, towns and villages. NRI President & CEO Shingo Konomoto visited Kumamoto himself to investigate the extent of damage and aid requirements. NRI has helped draft reconstruction plans after the Great Hanshin Earthquake and Great East Japan Earthquake, and with the confidence that this experience would help Kumamoto, offered aid to Mashiki Town, the town that suffered the greatest damage in the prefecture.
Tetsu Nakamura volunteered to work as a member for the Mashiki Town aid project. He says he simply wanted to help as a NRI member, and because he is originally from Kyushu (the island Kumamoto is on). Nakamura and fellow team member Kentaro Onuma are still on the job in Mashiki. They visited the town for the first time on June 11, around two months after the earthquakes. Most of the houses in the town had suffered damage, and many residents were still living in evacuation shelters. Emergency reconstructions on social infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) were being conducted at a fast pace.
When the two visited Mashiki town hall, the head of the newly-initiated Reconstruction Section asked if they could help draft a reconstruction plan, which he hoped would be completed by the end of December. Nakamura and Onuma answered in the affirmative, and that is when their journey began.
Looking back now, Nakamura says, "The town hall was still in a very disorderly state, and we had come without being able to clarify exactly how NRI could help. I am very grateful that they asked for our cooperation, even in such a situation."
Helping to "realize a reconstruction plan that incorporates the citizens' opinions"
Of course, because this was the first reconstruction plan for Mashiki Town, it started from a blank slate. However, Nakamura says, "Amidst the confusion, the town hall employees had already written up a basic policy for the reconstruction plan in their own words. This was a huge help. Their policy was to put the town citizens first and establish a reconstruction plan that respected the opinions of residents. We merely offered support to streamline the creation of a reconstruction plan based on this policy."
From July to November, they held a total of 21 meetings for citizens to voice their opinions. They conducted surveys to all households and elementary and junior high schools, and interviewed the chamber of commerce and other groups. The opinions of citizens were given top priority. Nakamura and Onuma applied their consulting experience and expertise accumulated throughout the years to collect, arrange and analyze the various opinions, and eventually organize them into a plan. They were stationed full time at Mashiki town hall while offering this full support.
Nakamura recalls, "Mashiki is a small town with a population of 30 thousand. The reconstruction plan deeply affects each citizen's life. That is why it was so important to follow the process of creating their own plan based on the sentiments and opinions of the citizens."
Never say, "Sorry, we cannot do that," as an aid member
Nakamura and Onuma's basic stance was to "Never say 'We cannot do that' without trying," "Finish whatever we say we will do," and "Do everything we can."
This meant, of course, being involved in every task in the process of drafting the reconstruction plan, but also suggesting and actively participating in tasks they deemed necessary.
For example, they implemented a system for sharing files and schedules between the town hall staff and support teams (consultants from NRI and other companies, etc.) to facilitate communication. Furthermore, in order for all support teams to efficiently offer help, they created a visualization of each support team's division of roles, and also prepared meetings and materials to periodically review each team's activities. They also created newsletters to publicize information, made guidance materials for visitors from outside of Mashiki, showed such visitors around, and received Mashiki citizens visiting the town hall.
Nakamura says, "I think they asked for our help because they could not handle everything themselves. As long as we were offering help in this situation, it was not acceptable to decline any request. I think it is a professional's job to do anything and everything towards the aim of reconstruction, and not be particular about the process or the typical scope of our work."
The purpose of supporting reconstruction efforts is to "let the townspeople move forward with confidence"
The reconstruction plan, created with priority on the citizens, was completed in last December, and they are now in the phase of executing the plan. Nakamura and Onuma have shifted their support to that aim as well. Nakamura says, "This is where we really start the reconstruction efforts."
Regarding the aid project, Nakamura says, "I now realize there is no one-size-fits-all package for reconstruction aid." Of course, there may be some common aspects among different regions, like the overall flow or itemization of a reconstruction plan. However, the degree of damage and emotions involved will vary, so the reconstruction plan must differ according to each region. "The final goal of reconstruction aid is to create an environment in which the people of that region can move forward with confidence. It is important to think of the ideal of that region together with the locals, and I think this is the same for every case." This is something he feels strongly about since NRI became involved in this reconstruction aid project.
Nakamura says, "Looking back now, it was a year of focused effort, motivated by a strong sense that we must do something and think of ways of utilizing the experience and skills honed at NRI. It has been very fulfilling to see NRI's activities welcomed at Mashiki Town and being able to get to this point. The journey to full reconstruction has just begun, and I intend to apply everything in my power to support the reconstruction of Mashiki Town."
Nomura Research Institute, Ltd.
Corporate Communications Department