When an 18-meter tsunami demolished his soy sauce factories in 2011 and killed an employee, Michihiro Kono despaired about the future of the company his family founded two centuries ago.

Three years later, his plants are running again and sales have recovered to about 70 percent of what they were before a record earthquake hit Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture. The source for the investment needed to rebuild? Crowdfunding cash, Kono says.

"Right after the disaster we were running on adrenaline, but after that, it felt like there were just too many problems to deal with," said Kono, 41, the president of Yagisawa Shouten Co., which has 32 employees. "It was a race against time to raise funds for rebuilding while keeping all the workers employed, so even though we didn't know anything about funds, when we were introduced to one, we went for it."