In Quake-Struck Japan, Businesses Try To Rebuild

The March 11th earthquake in Japan destroyed countless businesses and left many others closed. Some suffered earthquake damage. Others were flooded by the tsunami. And some near the crippled Fukushima nuclear complex can't get supplies. But despite the challenges facing small businesses in the area, many owners are trying to reopen.

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And one major challenge is reviving small businesses in Japan. Many along the coast remain closed. Some suffered earthquake damage, others were flooded by the tsunami, and some near the crippled nuclear plant can't get supplies.

NPR's Jason Beaubien has been talking with business owners.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Toshifumi Kinjo(ph) ran a hair salon for 25 years in the coastal city of Tagajo, near the regional hub of Sendai. The tsunami flooded the entire first floor of his salon.

(Soundbite of water)

BEAUBIEN: Kinjo washes the great out of his barber chairs and scrubs them with a paintbrush. Mud is everywhere. Much of the waterlogged contents of his shop sits in piles on the sidewalk. His plate glass window is smashed. But Kinjo is in a good mood.

Mr. TOSHIFUMI KINJO (Barbershop Owner): (Japanese language spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

BEAUBIEN: Kinjo says he's happy to be alive. He points to the top of a cabinet that's about six feet above the ground, that's where he took refuge during the tsunami.

Mr. KINJO: (Through Translator) Because the tsunami came, the wave just came up to here on the wall below the shelf where I was hiding, basically saved my life. If it had gone much higher, I really don't know what I would've done.

BEAUBIEN: Now he's faced with another challenge: How to get his hair salon up and running again. The neighborhood around him is devastated. There's no electricity or running water. He says the lack of water makes the cleanup extremely difficult. He's hauled water here to his shop in eight red jerry cans.

Mr. KINJO: (Japanese language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: There's an elementary school near my house with a swimming pool, Kinjo says, I've been filling these cans with water from the pool and using that to clean.

He says he's lucky because despite his family losing two cars to the tsunami, he still has access to a vehicle. The buses and trains aren't running here. And he says it would be very hard to try to repair his solon without a car.

(Soundbite of cars)

BEAUBIEN: A few miles inland in Sendai, many shops, restaurants and other businesses also remain closed. Downtown Sendai, which is the largest city in the heart of the disaster zone, wasn't flooded but it did suffer some earthquake damage. There are big cracks in the sidewalk in front of the shuttered train station and several large office buildings downtown are cordoned off with caution tape. Most hotels in Sendai are shut.

Mr. TATSUO KONO (Manager, Hotel Bel Air): (Japanese language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Tatsuo Kono(ph), the manager of the 125-room Hotel Bel Air in Sendai, has the headboard of a bed that toppled over during the quake. The earthquake damage to his hotel was minimal and most of it has already been repaired. But the Bel Air remains close.

Mr. KONO: (Japanese language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The city gas line is off, Kono says, so we have no heat or hot water.

Their linen service is also shut down. Food for the restaurant is hard to come by. The Bel Air is renting some rooms to people who were displaced by the tsunami and some crews that have come to do repairs, but it's a skeleton operation.

Mr. KONO: (Japanese language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: This elevator you see over here, he says, was down for a week and we had to use the emergency stairs. He says with so many problems across the region, it's been hard to book technicians to come and check the elevators or the air-conditioning units. Despite only minor damage from the earthquake, Kono says the Bel Air may not reopen fully until the first of May.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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