Akio visited the Tohoku region at the end of March 2011, when highways were finally re-opened after having been severely damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. When he entered the disaster area, seeing the devastating damages here and there, it made him feel powerless and realize just how little we human beings are.
In the great earthquake, we lost not only tangible things such as homes, but also irreplaceable loved ones, family and friends, as well as important memories. Even now, ten years after the incident, there are many who still have flashbacks of the traumatic day with memories they wish to erase but can’t.
“I may not be able to fully understand the feelings of those affected by the earthquake. However, I hope to stay close to the victims’ hearts by never forgetting about the disaster.”
Thus, he felt there needed to be a lasting long-term reconstruction that will require much time to support people and the recovery in the area. Akio continuously asked himself “how?”, and the decision he made was to contribute by creating employment, gaining earnings and paying taxes through the car manufacturing business. He made up his mind to help revitalize the Tohoku region, together with the people and the communities, through its business.
At that time, there was an onslaught of statements about the Japanese automotive industry already being mature, and there was little expectation for the industry.
The Japanese automotive industry was struggling against an extremely severe business environment known as the “Six Hardships”. Due to a very strong yen, domestic manufacturing was forced into a situation in which continuing operation in Japan would make no business sense. There were negative opinions made towards Akio’s decision.
“The people of Tohoku were the exception even in that situation. Putting their hopes in the automotive industry, they put us right in the middle of the recovery efforts. We wanted, as well, for us to be a force for reconstruction no matter what.”
Ten years after the earthquake, the number of Toyota Motor East Japan employees in Tohoku has increased from 3,100 in 2010 to 4,500 in 2019, and the shipment value of its products has increased from 30 billion yen in 2011 to 800 billion yen in 2019, which includes expansion due to the integration of the three companies mentioned above.
Toyota Yaris, which won The Car of the Year 2021 in Europe with its hybrid, has been produced in the plant in Tohoku as well. Now it has become the frontlines for electrification.
Ten years on, Toyota has continued to be part of the recovery. Akio has visited the disaster-stricken area every year since 2011, each time with hopes for further reconstruction. “Never forgetting” for Akio is about staying close to the people in the region and taking root in Tohoku, wishing to build a bright future together.