KUMAMOTO – About 1,000 people formed long lines in the cold night air Monday at a shelter in the quake-hit town of Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, to get a warm bowl of ramen noodles.
“Thank you,” one evacuee said with a smile.
Another said: “This will keep me going.”
The ramen noodles were donated by Kumamoto-based Shigemitsu Industry Co., known in the prefecture for its popular Ajisen Ramen restaurant chain.
Gas supply has stopped in the city of Kumamoto because of damage from the quake, forcing Shigemitsu outlets to close.
So Katsuaki Shigemitsu, 47, the company’s president, decided to give the ramen to evacuees, serving up the equivalent of a week’s stock.
Since Saturday, Shigemitsu and his team have been going around the shelters in Mashiki and Kumamoto city to provide lunch and dinner.
Some Shigemitsu workers were themselves victims of the quake. But they wanted to offer support to local residents, based on their experiences as volunteers after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and the March 2011 quake and tsunami in Tohoku.
Shigemitsu’s team served up about 6,000 bowls of free ramen noodles a month after the 2011 disaster, helping people in locations such as Sendai and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture.
After the Kumamoto quake, a man from Sendai with whom Shigemitsu was acquainted through previous volunteer work contacted him to make sure his workers were safe.
Among those now distributing ramen noodles are employees whose houses collapsed in the quake and teenagers who want to volunteer.
“I never thought Kumamoto would be struck by an earthquake,” said Shigemitsu. “We couldn’t just sit around and do nothing.”
Shigemitsu is also planning to visit Minamiaso, which sustained heavy damage in the quakes.
“Many people are worried that they can’t go home. As a local company, we want to help out as much as possible,” Shigemitsu said.