April 4, 2012
One Year On from 3/11 Interview with Nissan Prince Miyagi Ishinomaki’s Keiji Endo
Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami completely destroyed the Nissan Prince Miyagi dealership where Keiji Endo was manager. Last week, we caught up with Endo-san to discuss the recovery.
Q1. How did you recover after the earthquake and tsunami?
I was in charge of the Ishinomaki Minato branch at that time. After a couple of days, the company made a decision to resume operations at the Ishinomaki branch and Ishinomaki Car Palace, which is a used-car outlet.
First we washed and cleared all the dirt from the Car Palace showroom. Then we washed and fixed the Ishinomaki branch because the waves came in up to knee height here. We brought in a high-pressure car hose. The final repair work was completed last December and since January we have been able to use the showroom with its new floor.
Q2. Has the relationship between customers and sales staff changed?
Many customers have returned and want to continue their relationship with us. There are many people who lost their lives. Some people brought in cars that used to belong to members of their family and wanted the cars repaired as they contained memories of them.
Q3. Two branches, Ishinomaki and Ishinomaki Minato, merged after the quake. What’s been the result?
Because the two outlets merged, Ishinomaki is now the top-selling Nissan outlet in Miyagi. Of course the business plan target was raised. I believe that the sales results between April and September mean that we were the leading Nissan outlet in Japan.
There was really strong demand after people lost their cars and needed to replace them. Sometimes we needed to do the transaction standing up in the showroom [because there was nowhere to sit]. Now, although the situation has settled down, we are still having lots of sales. Still, the sales target is still high. It is quite tough to achieve those targets.
Q4. You mentioned that you were in the Ishinomaki Minato branch on 3/11 and during the aftershock on the 7 April. What was it like?
The ground there was stronger than here at the Ishinomaki branch, but on 3/11 I saw rocks falling from the hill behind the branch, so I instantly realized that this was an unusually strong earthquake.
I told staff to stop work immediately. Because we are on the coast we knew that a tsunami might come, so we didn’t let the employees go home and evacuated them to higher ground.
When tsunami came, we could do nothing except watch. It was just like you saw on the news. The water rushed in and the cars were floating and crashing into each other. All we could do was watch and groan.
Because the whole district was washed away we decided to abandon the Ishinomaki Minato branch. We focused on the Ishinomaki branch, which was hit less severely.
We started cleaning the branch and, after we washed the dirt away, we were quite keen to start our business going again. But the aftershock struck on April 7 and we were very disappointed. We just thought, “not again”.
But we picked ourselves up and we decided to start doing business again even though there was no glass in the windows. We wanted to provide transport for the reconstruction. The rail lines were destroyed and more cars were washed away in Ishinomaki than any other part of Miyagi prefecture. People wouldn’t have transportation if we didn’t provide cars, so we tried hard to supply as many as possible as quickly as we could.
At Ishinomaki Minato the waves came in very quickly and strongly, but at the Ishinomaki branch the water came up from the sewers. There are some people who returned after they were evacuated, came back and saw the waters coming in, then evacuated again.
At the Ishinomaki Minato branch we went up to the hills immediately. The situation was different depending on the place.
Q5. Did everyone know that they had to evacuate in case a tsunami came?
I didn’t want anyone to lose their life. We can recover as long as we are alive. So I told my employees to run away as fast as they could. If nothing happens we are lucky. I had to protect our employees’ lives. I recall that a few days before 3/11 there was a tsunami alert. I thought that this time too it might be a minor tsunami.
I didn’t expect such a high wave. It was above the ceiling and we couldn’t do anything about it. I think it was about 6 to 7 meters high. We found that the main streets were badly affected because they acted as a channel for the tsunami and the water came quickly.
In residential areas, the houses blocked the tsunami and it came more slowly. The Ishinomaki Minato branch was facing an open road so it was hard hit. The cars that floated away crashed into the cliff behind the showroom. The situation was really crazy. All we could do was watch. We just managed to pull one old lady over the fence before the strong wave arrived.