LPG exec eyes corporate awards to raise Fukushima’s spirits


Over the past five years, Yuji Shinogi has led a number of projects to buoy his fellow residents in Fukushima Prefecture, which is struggling to shed the stigma from Japan’s worst nuclear power plant accident.

In his latest attempt to highlight the positive side of the prefecture, Shinogi, 53, has taken an unconventional approach. He is trying to discover companies from around the world that undertake unique and humorous initiatives and plans to honor them unilaterally.

“I want to turn Fukushima’s image around by presenting upbeat topics to the rest of the world,” said Shinogi, who is president of Apollo Gas, a supplier of liquefied petroleum gas in the city of Fukushima.

Five years after the triple core meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, several industries in the prefecture — notably agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism — are still reeling from unfounded rumors about safety. The prefecture also faces the specter of the enormous damage from the nuclear disaster being gradually overshadowed by daily matters in people’s lives.

“I think Fukushima is a touchy subject overseas. I want to (override) that by casting a positive image,” Shinogi said.

With the awards project, he is seeking to turn the prefecture’s now high global name recognition into an advantage.

The project will recognize companies engaged in humorous initiatives not found elsewhere. The six categories include employee uniforms, commercials and business models.

Apollo Gas employees will work together to comb newspapers, magazines and the Internet for candidate firms and select the best one for each category. Each recipient of the Apollo Award will be sent a special trophy and award certificate.

The winners are to be announced in a ceremony slated for Tuesday. Young employees at Shinogi’s company will make presentations about the reasons for the selections.

On his business card, Shinogi describes himself as “chief of the high-spirits energy supply headquarters.”

After the nuclear disaster started, he organized an event in which 10,000 candles illuminated an English message to the world from local high school students. He also published a collection of poems authored by Fukushima residents, with the proceeds helping to finance purchases of playground equipment and books for local kindergartens and elementary schools.

The awards project is the latest in a series of such initiatives but aims to strike a lighter note. He plans to continue it next year and beyond.

“If Fukushima hangs tough and communicates vigor and laughter, it will help brighten up people in Japan and the rest of the world,” Shinogi said. “I hope children in Fukushima can say with confidence and pride, ‘Fukushima is my hometown.’ “