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In Japan, some businesses are pledging to rebuild in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami. The question is how. Infrastructure is gone. Local governments are devastated. Workers are homeless.

NPR's Yuki Noguchi found one business trying to overcome the odds, a soy sauce maker.

YUKI NOGUCHI: We go looking for what used to be the 204-year-old headquarters of Yagisawa Company in what was the city of Rikuzen-Takata. Its ninth-generation CEO tries first to locate his parents' house, which stood across the street. With so little of it left, Michihiro Kono gets confused.

Mr. MICHIHIRO KONO (CEO, Yagisawa Company) (Foreign language spoken)

NOGUCHI: The factory and store itself were made of centuries-old lacquered clay shingles and wood. A dirt path runs where the entrance once was.

Mr. KONO: (Through translator) At first it was like, oh, a tsunami. Oh, it's coming. Oh man, it's huge. Oh, the company. There goes the company.

NOGUCHI: And just like that, the ocean claimed more than $6.5 million worth of plant, property and equipment. People scrambled up a nearby hill, carrying older people on their backs. Two of the 41 employees didn't make it.

Yagisawa Company is still functioning. Employees cram into a one-room trailer behind the city's driving school.

Kono scraped some cultures necessary to recreate his family's ancient soy sauce recipe from the inside of a broken machine. Little else of value remains. Insurance will cover less than five percent of the loss. A lawyer told him to file for bankruptcy. Still, Kono is determined to help rebuild. He says without jobs, people will leave, lose hope.

Mr. KONO: (Through translator) If you've lost family, the house where you lived, and you have no hope of working with your colleagues again, then what? I don't want this to become the city where six months later, survivors are committing suicide.

NOGUCHI: At the driving school, local businessmen meet to discuss recovery plans. They, like Kono, are hoping to restart by asking the government for low-interest loans and other support. They track other business owners down at shelters, hoping to get them on board. But, Kono admits, in a city where everyone's lost someone, many aren't ready to hear it. Truth be told, even some of Kono's own employees don't know what to make of him.

Ms. FUMIE ABE (Employee, Yagisawa Company): (Foreign language spoken)

NOGUCHI: Fumie Abe says Kono showed up at her house shortly after the tsunami and asked her to report back to work.

Ms. ABE: (Through translator) My honest feeling was, what are you thinking? I mean at that point we worried about food. Privately, I was still looking for loved ones and I still had to deal with that.

NOGUCHI: On the side of the road, about a half mile from the old headquarters, Kono discovered one of the wooden barrels used to make his soy sauce.

Ms. ABE: (Foreign language spoken)

NOGUCHI: The barrel is large enough to stand in. It still smells of good savory soy sauce. On the back side of the barrel, pooled by my feet, is some dark brown liquid.

Ms. ABE: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. KONO: (Foreign language spoken)

NOGUCHI: Yup, Kono says, that's my soy sauce.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Rikuzen-Takata, Japan.

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