Reflecting on the Ten Years since Japan's Triple Disaster
By Sue Plumb Takamoto
In Part 1: "Looking Back on Ten Years: Finding Beauty in Brokenness", I highlighted the unimaginable damage and challenging aftermath from Japan’s March 11, 2011 Triple Disaster—a 9.0 earthquake that triggered a tsunami and caused a nuclear power plant meltdown.
Picking Up the Pieces
Japan has spent a decade rebuilding, corporately and individually. I have been struck by the gifts of resilience, creativity, and worldwide collaboration that have made a difference here. And thanks to the invitation for me and our family to be part of the lives of our Ishinomaki neighbors and friends, I have learned so much.
A year and a half after the disaster, we launched a micro-enterprise business called Nozomi Project (or “Hope” Project) to help provide a way for women to rebuilding a livelihood for their families. We gathered local women and learned together how to cut and grind pottery shards, broken from the disaster, and form those pieces into new stunning pieces of jewelry that could be sold. Not only did the sales lift their economic situation, the process of making beauty in brokenness lifted their souls.
While our specific market niche (jewelry) is based on a unique raw material (broken pottery left by a tsunami!) set in unusual circumstances (need presented by a disaster), we have learned valuable lessons that may also be particularly helpful during this worldwide pandemic.
Six Lessons Learned Along the Way
Here are a few of the lessons that I have learned in running a small international business.
- Need is the perfect time for creativity to blossom.
Or as my grandmother used to say, necessity is the mother of invention. So many good and beautiful things have been birthed during times of dire need. When our family moved here, Ishinomaki was a place in great despair; women were desperate for community and hope. That tremendous need created a deep longing in me to try and make a difference, even if we might fail. Starting a business…making jewelry… these things were far beyond my comfort level, but the risk was worth it. And as we recognized the need for business, we discovered a beautiful “natural” resource headed for trash—broken pottery that was littered everywhere.
- Do the right next thing.
"Do the next right thing."During our first few months of setting up Nozomi Project, I read whatever I could find on social enterprises. I forgot nearly everything except for one phrase that became my mantra: Do the right next thing. Starting a new unknown business in a city that has been devastated was at times incredibly overwhelming. I would come back to our temporary home and get our four kids to bed and wonder: where do I even start? Do the right next thing. I can’t do everything on my list tonight, but I can prioritize and take the step that makes the most sense for right now. This simple principle got me through those few months, and still remains a helpful beacon when life feels overwhelming.
- Synergy allows us to do what we could never do on our own.
I had no business experience and had never made jewelry in my life! Networking and great teamwork allowed us to create something much greater than the sum of our individual parts. Volunteers visiting connected us with awesome jewelry designers, who ended up coming to Ishinomaki. Their ten-day sacrifice and ongoing partnership after that facilitated the birth of Nozomi. Another volunteer with web design launched us online; our teammate with amazing computer skills created our internet interface. Networking creates synergy.
- Diverse partnerships allow us to go further and deeper.
During our first few years of business, I was frequently asked, “when are you planning to turn the business over to Japanese?” I didn’t have an answer for that. But as time went on and we were more intentional with our business model, I began to realize that perhaps our goal never really was about turning everything over to Japanese.
Rather, that is our “secret sauce”—the wonderful combination of Japanese and North Americans working together. My Japanese teammates brought with them the most important gifts of artistry, precision and creating systems. Our North American teammates perhaps brought the fun, the ability to keep things from getting too stiff, and the connections, which have brought continued to give new life to Nozomi at necessary points.
Quite honestly, shared ownership of a vision with people of different cultures is hard work. We have certainly had to go slower because of our cross-cultural differences and language challenges. Yet I’m convinced that these very differences have grown me as a leader and strengthened us as an organization.
- The best business model is one that chooses generosity.
We have chosen “blessing” as one of our three core values. We have benefited greatly from the collaboration of volunteers and friends around the world who helped us launch and move forward.
And we intentionally choose to be generous. We give over 20% of any annual profit each year to other organizations and places around the world with greater need. We have a Nozomi Holding Hope necklace in which we donate portions of each sale to stop human trafficking. We have taken several Nozomi teams to Cambodia where we are helping vulnerable women there get a social enterprise started. By making generosity a key factor in our decision-making, we are modeling to our team and our customers a way of life that may feel counter-cultural but provides purpose and fulfillment.
- Collaboration creates momentum.
The very start of Nozomi was all about collaboration from people who were drawn to Ishinomaki because they wanted to help. We’ve had teams come from around the world who have brought their expertise to help us get off the ground. And we have loved partnering with shops in places like Tokyo, London, Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Hong Kong who are now selling Nozomi products. Through word of mouth and people who have sponsored us and shared the Nozomi story, we have sent over 60,000 pieces of hope to over 45 different countries. An original Nozomi jewelry set was created to be worn at H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award ceremony in Stockholm this past year. We are honored, and grateful for the collaboration and partnership of people like this.
The tragedy that struck here ten years ago will always remind me of the fragility of life. But I am humbled and remain thankful for the beautiful responses of the people here, and friends from around the world who have enabled me to lead and to learn in ways I would have never imagined a decade ago.
Sue Plumb Takamoto
Photo credits: Images courtesy of Nozomi Project
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue and Eric Takamoto and their four children are living in Ishinomaki, Japan, part of a church planting network called Be One. They first met at Fuller Seminary, where Sue was starting her PhD in leadership and intercultural studies. Sue owns more pieces of Nozomi jewelry than she would care to admit!
- See Part 1: "Looking Back on Ten Years: Finding Beauty in Brokenness"
- See other staff members' reflections on the 10-year remembrance of Japan's Triple Disaster:
- Joe Handley: Kintsugi and the Gospel
- Eric Takamoto: Transformation Through Tragedy
- Dan & Casi Brown: Remembering 3.11 and the Gospel of Hope
- Kent Muhling: Learning to Be Good News
- Rev. Yoshiya Hari: Groundbreaking shifts resulting from Japan's Triple Disaster
- Reflections during the first year following the 3.11 Disaster: asianaccess.org/reflections
- Related posts about Japan's Triple Disaster: asianaccess.org/japan-disaster
- Video clips on the Triple Disaster...