Reopening of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

Bookshop owner is rescuing books from his damaged shop
Owner of a small restaurant struggled to reopen his business

Self-employed business people in the urban area, who had been well blended in with the local people on a daily basis, played active roles in the rescue and reconstruction activities after the earthquake.

First, people at the local enterprises of small and medium-size commerce and industry had a good knowledge of their neighborhood and were in the front of rescue activities, calling out into collapsed houses. Second, people at small and medium-sized enterprises such as building contractors, who procure daily life necessities for people and have skills and tools useful for livelihood, aided in the reconstruction of the lives and buildings of the disaster-affected people in the neighborhood, displaying their wisdom and ability. Third, the small and medium-sized business people with extensive social relationships with local people often naturally took initiatives in encouraging communication among people in refuges and temporary housing in the locality. And lastly, the reopening of their businesses in the neighborhood served as a stimulant to the once standstill local economy and facilitated the reconstruction of the local community. Small and medium-sized business people who reopened their shops and businesses in the rubble were regarded as the "symbol of reconstruction" and encouraged the earthquake-affected people toward restoration and reconstruction.

Governmental Policy for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses

On February 9, three weeks after the earthquake, the then prime minister MURAYAMA Tomiichi announced measures on restoration and reconstruction in a press conference. The measures, stating that the recovery of small and medium-sized enterprises would be a crucial key for the reconstruction, established systems such as non-interest loans, subsidy for the construction of cooperative temporary stores and temporary factories, and reconstruction support factories. However, though these were beyond the conventional framework, the scale and the context were not quite available for all the business people. Even those who could utilize the system very often faced new burdens which emerged with changes in the local economy and social environment.

The first reason was that despite its small and medium-sized businesses-oriented catch phrase, in reality, the actual target of the measures were large-scale projects. Smaller enterprises were only given left-over tasks. Second, as clearly seen in the urban reconstruction projects, the public measures for the recovery of the local community and lives of people not only excluded the local disaster victims, the central characters in the neighborhood, from being leading roles, but also underestimated the importance of the reconstruction of small and medium-sized businesses. Third, whole measures worked as a new filter for quake-stricken business owners to be screened and sorted out as a result of the fact that the governments consistently neglected the urgent request from the disaster sufferers for public compensation and subsidy for individuals, and stuck to measures based on the loan system to deal with individual cases, which meant that those who already lost their assets and property had to burden additional "debt" by the measures.

In fact, the smaller the scale of the enterprises or shops were, the slower their reconstruction was, and many of them gave up reopening. Meanwhile, big supermarket chains opened their shops in the areas where disaster victims had been unable to come back to, and convenience stores capitalized by major companies opened one after another, which consequently deprived local shopping centers and retail markets of the opportunity to reopen their businesses. In addition, a huge amount of jobs for subcontractors was lost as major enterprises closed, moved or downscaled their factories.

According to the statistics on enterprises before and after the earthquake, the number of small enterprises with four employees or less decreased by as much as approximately 14,000, or 13.5%.

The reconstruction of small and medium-sized enterprises in a big city from the damage wrought by a large-scale natural disaster does not only mean the reconstruction of individual businesses. The reconstruction and improvement of the environment which enables the individuals to do small-scaled business should also be regarded as an important factor. And its central issue is the rebuilding of the lives of people and local economy, in which owners of small and medium-sized business should take leading roles.