Volunteerism spreads among Japanese companies
BY KENICHI GOROMARU STAFF WRITER
Shiseido Co.'s "beauty volunteers" give free makeovers to victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 10. (Kenichi Goromaru)Skylark Co. employees serve meals at an evacuation center in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, on Aug. 9. (Kenichi Goromaru)
Volunteerism has gained new impetus among companies in a ripple effect since the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Companies such as Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and Olympus Corp. introduced volunteer leave systems after March 11; however many firms use a system where volunteers must get approval as to when they want to work as volunteers in quake-ravaged northeast Japan.
Corporate volunteerism took ground after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
A younger employee at a major electric company requested leave in late June. He was given the OK by his supervisor because his leave time would not affect the company.
"My request would have been turned down if it was a busy time," he said.
Mitsubishi Corp. plans to send 1,200 employees to disaster-stricken areas this fiscal year, which ends in March 2012.
Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) sent 20 teams of volunteers, consisting of workers from about 50 companies, between April and early August.
But needs in the area have changed, said a Keidanren official.
"We will have to consider sending people who can help support reconstruction," the official said.
One day in early August, a prefab meeting room in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, was filled with women's laughter.
"You are a totally different person now," one woman said.
"My family members will be surprised," said another.
Beauticians from cosmetics giant Shiseido Co. visited disaster-stricken areas and gave free makeovers and massage services to about 27,000 people who live in evacuation centers and temporary housing.
"I feel great after having my makeup done,"said 59-year-old Shizue Shoji. "I feel confident and up to a challenge."
Another woman, 56, said, "I didn't feel like wearing makeup immediately after the earthquake. But now I feel as if I am returning to an ordinary life a little. Makeup has a great magic."
Shiseido's activities were first started by local workers in the disaster-stricken areas.
"For women, makeup provides them a zest for living," said Kaeko Matsuda, a senior official at the company's Tohoku branch office. "It can be an opportunity for disaster survivors to exchange feelings."
At a sports park in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, restaurant chain operator Skylark Co. employees prepared food for evacuees, who live in the gym.
The menu on a day in early August was sliced pork and boiled sanma with a soy sauce flavor.
Yoko Kimura, 60, whose apartment was submerged by the tsunami, said, "When I first ate rice and miso soup at the evacuation center, I couldn't help crying. I am grateful, just grateful, for being able to have a balanced diet every day."
Akio Maru, a Skylark employee who helped prepare meals, said, "I was so happy when an evacuee leaving the center shook my hand."
The company had provided about 200,000 meals at Onagawa and Kesennuma evacuation centers by mid-August, when municipal school-lunch centers reopened.
SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. sent nearly 400 new employees to clear debris in July as part of their new employee training. They were not given detailed instructions.
According to Masaki Yamada, company social responsibility director, the attempt bore an unexpected result.
"Everybody acted creatively, and their teamwork was enhanced," Yamada said.