Rebuilding A Soy Sauce Company, From The Barrel Up Michihiro Kono lost his factory, storeroom, customer records and two of his employees in the tsunami. But the ninth-generation CEO of Yagisawa Co. is determined to rebuild his soy sauce business, despite the odds.
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Rebuilding A Soy Sauce Company, From The Barrel Up

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Rebuilding A Soy Sauce Company, From The Barrel Up

Rebuilding A Soy Sauce Company, From The Barrel Up

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

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

YUKI NOGUCHI: 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.

M: (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: 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.

M: (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.

M: (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.

M: (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.

M: (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.

M: (Foreign language spoken)

M: (Foreign language spoken)

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

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