National

Deadly storms in Kyushu hit traditional businesses hard

Kyodo

The storms in Kyushu earlier this month not only ruined homes and roads but also dealt a blow to traditional businesses, including makers of liquor and pottery.

Communities in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures worry the devastation could make it even harder for aging owners of small and midsize firms to find successors.

“We have confirmed damage amounting to ¥10 billion at some 200 entities in the city of Asakura and the village of Toho,” a senior member of the chamber of commerce in Asakura told industry minister Hiroshige Seko during a meeting in the city in Fukuoka Prefecture on July 14.

“The amount is likely to grow,” the official told Seko, who visited Asakura after it had received a record 545.5 mm of rainfall from July 5 to 6. The torrential rain caused serious damage to businesses near its rivers.

Alcoholic beverage maker Shinozaki Co., which is situated near a branch of the Chikugo River, was one of those damaged in Asakura. It had to dispose of 20 tons of amazake (sweet sake) and 40 tons of shochu (spirits). It also had to scrap a new manufacturing device worth more than ¥100 million it introduced in May.

“We didn’t expect anything like this,” said Michiaki Shinozaki, a 39-year-old official who was shocked by the damage at the company, which dates back to the Edo Period.

Northern Kyushu, which includes Asakura, had been pounded by torrential rain in 2012 but the area around the brewery suffered little damage, Shinozaki said.

The company mobilized all employees to clean up the premises and resumed shipments of sake that survived the storms on July 19. “We want to resume the brewing process in September so we can deliver sake to our customers nationwide soon,” Shinozaki said.

Furniture maker Ohkuma Co.’s three factories in Asakura and Toho were also damaged by the rain.

“We removed mud and partially resumed operations. But we don’t know yet when we can bring the business to what it had been before the disaster,” said an official of the company, which mainly makes doors and closets.

“We will try to restore our business soon and run all available equipment so production can continue,” President Hareaki Ohkuma, 66, said.

Marudai Pottery, producer of traditional Koishiharayaki ceramics in Toho, also took damage to its shop and warehouse.

“The pottery was safe. But the store and warehouse were flooded and the products were all covered with mud,” said Yoshiko Ota, 70.

The storms hit a wide section of both Fukuoka and Oita in early July, leaving 35 people dead.

According to the chamber of commerce in Hita, Oita Prefecture, many companies in the city got flooded and saw their products get washed away. “The amount of damage could top ¥10 million at one firm,” an official of the chamber said.

A government tally in April showed that the number small and midsize firms that suspended or terminated business or were dissolved due to the absence of successors hit a record 29,583 in 2016, even though bankruptcies declined.

An official of the Asakura chamber of commerce voiced concern that the enormous damage caused by the latest rains may discourage aging operators from carrying on.

“We overheard somebody say (the damage) has prompted some businesses to consider folding,” the official said.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has announced a plan to financially help the small and midsize companies damaged in northern Kyushu.

“We will tap relevant subsidies to help companies continue their business” in the disaster-hit areas, Seko told reporters.

“The speed of such assistance is important,” an official in a disaster-affected area said. “We cannot stop the closure of businesses from increasing unless aid is made available soon.”