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Survivors of Thai floods carve a temporary niche in Aichi

Chunichi Shimbun

The devastating floods in Thailand last year took a toll on some 450 Japanese companies operating in the country.

Some Thai employees of a Panasonic affiliate who lost their jobs after their plant in Ayutthaya was flooded are now working hard at a plant in Owariasahi, Aichi Prefecture.

Jiraporn Tulwanthana, 37, whose house in Ayutthaya was submerged, left her family there and came to Japan to work. While shivering in the cold winter of Japan, weather she has never experienced, she is happy to have a job.

“The water gradually entered the house, then it came in waves and flooded the first floor to the level of my neck,” she recalled.

Her family of four made a mad dash for the second floor, but they survived. They had to live without electricity and running water for a month.

The factory where she worked, which manufactured residential circuit breakers, was also flooded. Responding to the situation, its group company, Panasonic Eco Solutions Switch Gear Devices Co., launched a production line at the plant in Owariasahi.

Including Jiraporn, 59 of the Thai factory’s 300 local employees came to Japan in early December.

Her job is to assemble dozens of components manually.

“As I had been doing the same work for 4½ years in Ayutthaya, I had no worries about working at the plant in Japan,” she said.

It’s worked well for the firm.

“We hired Japanese temp staff, too. But Thai workers have longer experience in doing detailed work, so they can get more done,” said Masafumi Yasuda, 42, a director of the company.

Jiraporn’s 15-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter in Thailand were worried about earthquakes in Japan and the effects of the nuclear crisis. But working in Japan enables her to earn more than working in her home country.

When she phoned her children, they were concerned about the cold weather in Japan.

“Japan is a beautiful country,” she replied and to ease their worries told them that she enjoys shopping on her days off.

Among her 58 colleagues from Thailand, 44 are women and the average age is just 29. They encourage each other against the severity of the winter. Japanese employees are also trying to make them feel at home by inviting them to gatherings such as “takoyaki” (octopus dumpling) parties and ski tours.

One area where they have had problems adapting is Japanese food.

“I like salty and spicy food and don’t like the sweet flavor of Japanese food,” Jiraporn said.

The Thai employees are set to work in Japan until April, when the plant in Ayutthaya is scheduled to go back online.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 26.