Ten Years from 3.11 – Our Challenge to Transform Japan from a Disaster-prone Country to a Disaster-resilient Country Stakeholder Dialogue 2021
The Z Holdings Group, with its commitment to solving social problems with the power of information technology (IT), set “Supporting disaster relief and social issues” as one of its four materiality issues. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, the Group has initiated a variety of projects and services aimed at supporting disaster relief and reconstruction, promoting disaster preparedness, and mitigating disasters. In a dialogue with Professor Atsuko Hattori, Faculty of Policy Studies, Doshisha University, who specializes in social innovation, members from the Z Holdings Group looked back on the past decade and discussed the future envisioned by the Group.
- *The dialogue was held online in January 2021. The titles and departments of employees referred to in this article are as of January 2021.
- Atsuko Hattori (Professor, Faculty of Policy Studies, Doshisha University; Representative, Durable Social Innovation Alliances Association)
- Professor Atsuko Hattori participated in the SOKENDAI Scope Project after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, a research project that works to promote non-profit organizations. She founded the CAC Research Network for Social Entrepreneurs in 2001 and Durable Social Innovation Alliances Association in 2009, and has been actively involved in fostering social entrepreneurs and other human resources. Her written and editorial works include, among others, “Shin Kokyo Keiei-ron” (New Theory of Public Service Management), “Mirai wo Tsukuru Kigyonai Inobeta-tachi” (Corporate Innovators Who Create a Future), and “Sosharu Inobeshon” (Social Innovation).
- Hiroshi Kataoka (Corporate Officer, President of Media Services Group, Yahoo Japan Corporation)
- Born in 1978 in Gifu Prefecture, Hiroshi Kataoka joined Yahoo Japan Corporation in 2005.
In his early years, he took part in the launch of Yahoo! JAPAN Politics for All and was involved in planning for media services such as Yahoo! JAPAN News and new businesses. Having served as the head of the advertising business promotion division, he led the development of action-inspiring media as the Vice President of News Business Divison. He assumed the current position in 2016.
- Shuichi Nishida (Corporate Officer, President of Social Responsibility Promotion Group, Yahoo Japan Corporation)
- Shuichi Nishida joined Yahoo Japan Corporation in 2004. As the manager of the Yahoo! JAPAN top page, he led the company’s first attempt to wholly redesign the top page of Yahoo! JAPAN.
He was also involved in the launch of “Search for 3.11: Searching is Supporting,” a campaign that combines Yahoo! JAPAN’s search service with the support for the reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Having served as the Vice President of the Search Business Division, he assumed the current position in April 2017.
- Facilitated by Setsu Mori (Chief Editor of Alterna Magazine)
- Joined Nikkei Inc., where he started his career in the Economics and Distribution Department, before assuming the post of Bureau Chief of Los Angeles Bureau from 1998 to 2001. He resigned from Nikkei Inc. in September 2002 and established Global Press in October of the same year where he serves as the Chairman. In September 2006, he established Alterna Co., Ltd. and started Alterna Magazine, a sustainable business magazine in March 2007.
What were we able to deliver at the time of disaster?
―At 14:46, March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan. Both Mr. Kataoka and Mr. Nishida were in a position to distribute information. What were your situations back then?
Kataoka: I was the leader of the planning team for Yahoo! JAPAN News and therefore was in a position to manage the team.
When a disaster occurs, Yahoo! JAPAN News has the responsibility to let people know what happened and what they should do. Just as we managed to deliver the breaking news on the earthquake, we were told by the building management of Tokyo Midtown (where our office was located then) to evacuate from the building, and so we left the office and took refuge in a nearby park.
We were unable to deliver news for some time, and some members living near the office went home and started to update the news again.
We returned to the office after two hours or so, and by then there had already been footage of the tsunami, and we all became busy delivering the situation of the damages.
Nishida: At that time, I was in charge of Yahoo! JAPAN top page. In the middle of a meeting in the office, I felt a strong shake, and as I looked out of the window, the nearby buildings were swaying like willows. It was as if I were watching a science fiction movie.
I knew this is out of the ordinary, and I tried to get back to my desk. But then I heard the instruction to evacuate from the building, so I went outside, too. Yahoo! JAPAN News staff kept updating the news coming in from agencies, and so there was nothing that I needed to do in particular about the top page just then, but I was very apprehensive of what to do later.
Because the top page of Yahoo! JAPAN was the most read webpages in Japan, I was prepared to delivery important information in the event of an emergency. When an unprecedented earthquake struck, however, we only had fragmented information but not the whole picture. So I found myself not able to make an instantaneous judgment of what to deliver to whom and in what way. To be honest, I do not have a vivid memory of that time.
―Do you feel that you have conveyed what you were able to convey?
Kataoka: Honestly, not at all. Smartphones were not as widespread as they are today, and all we could do initially was deliver news about the occurrence of the quake. We were unable to immediately deliver the information about the tsunami that followed.
Today, it is possible to report the damages or call for evacuation with push notifications to smartphones, but there were so many things we couldn’t do ten years ago. Like Nishida, I can barely recall the memory of the week following the earthquake.
Nishida: I spent the night in the office on the day of the earthquake. Even at midnight, in the darkness with all the lights turned off, I kept staring at the Yahoo! JAPAN top page on the monitor, filled with a sense of helplessness. For some reason, the memory of looking at myself from a bird's eye view has stayed with me.
I struggled desperately to do my job from then, but I am not very sure if I was able to deliver needed information sufficiently, and it was indeed very difficult.
This is because although the disaster area is in the Tohoku region, more people in the Tokyo metropolitan area visit Yahoo! JAPAN in proportion to their population distribution. People in the Tokyo metropolitan area were looking for information about people unable to return home immediately after the earthquake and planned power outages.
With the spread of smartphones, more personalized, push delivery of information has now become possible, but if you ask me if we had been able to bring needed information to needed people at that time, I cannot say “Yes” to the question with much confidence.
―Professor Hattori, you are an expert on social innovation and social entrepreneurship. What are your views on the role played by Yahoo! JAPAN?
Hattori: I have the impression that Yahoo! JAPAN has dramatically expanded its activities after 3.11, but you said that you felt at a loss in the beginning. It is kind of a surprise in retrospect that smartphones were not so widespread ten years ago.
As I am more on the side of grass-roots movements, I know a lot of people around me who are willing to go to the site as volunteers. Speaking of myself, I was in Nara when the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake occurred, and I visited to the affected areas two months later to have an interview with an organization that swiftly began providing support to foreigners. At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I entered the affected areas exactly 100 days from the disaster. By placing myself at the site, I take in the real situation of the place through my five senses.
Nowadays, we tend to make judgments based on the information gathered over the Internet rather than by listening to people or through personal experiences. That is good in some ways but have certain dangers, too. It is desirable to have both real information through actions and information on the Internet so that people can make decisions based on them. I think this is exactly where Yahoo! JAPAN can play a part.
Bitterness of “having not been able to deliver sufficiently” led to the development of reconstruction/disaster prevention projects
―After the disaster, various services and projects were created for supporting disaster relief/reconstruction, promoting disaster preparedness, and mitigating disasters. Tell us about some of the services and projects that you have particularly deep thoughts about.
Kataoka: I would name Yahoo! Disaster Alert app. After the disaster, I was newly tasked with supervising the Yahoo! JAPAN Top Page and Yahoo! JAPAN News. At that time, we set the goal of becoming a "media that leads to action.” The role of the media is insufficient unless it not only delivers information, but also helps people make decisions based on the information and leads them to take action. After the earthquake, I felt this need even more strongly.
The Yahoo! Disaster Alert app was developed out of the lesson from 3.11. It prepares people for coming disasters by sending earthquake early warnings, heavy rain forecast, etc. with regional push notifications. People receiving the alerts can start evacuating sooner. The app has now grown to be used by over 20 million people.
Nishida: I have a particularly strong thought about “Search for 3.11,” a campaign by which your search can lead to donation. The sense of helplessness that I felt at the time of the disaster was still lingering even after I was transferred to the Yahoo! JAPAN Search service, and I wanted to do something like cause marketing using Yahoo! JAPAN Search, so that it can be used to support reconstruction and prevent the memory of the disaster from fading away.
When you make a search with a keyword, the topic searched becomes personal. So in order to encourage people to search with the keyword “3.11,” we created a mechanism whereby 10 yen is donated by Yahoo! JAPAN to reconstruction support activities on behalf of every person who made such a search. The campaign was participated by some 2.6 million people in the first year of 2014, and continues to be conducted even now.
Hattori: I think Yahoo! Disaster Alert is a very good service, and I am one of the users. As for “Search for 3.11,” why does the topic become personal when you make a search? How has the number of participants changed over years?
Nishida: If you search “3.11” because you were asked to do so by others, say, someone on social media, it may not be your natural interest or concern, but as a result of making the search, you will see the current state of the affected areas, news stories from that time, and encouraging remarks contributed by well-known figures, and you will recall the day of 3.11.
The number of participants has increased every year, from 2.6 million people in the first year to nearly 8.4 million people on March 11, 2020. Fortunately, celebrities voluntarily take the lead in spreading the campaign through YouTube, social media, etc. without our asking.
Hattori: Volunteering used to be thought as something that a handful of conscious, get-up-and-go people would do, but “Search for 3.11” has created the awareness that clicking is also a way of taking action. It has shown that there are different ways of showing your support, and paved the way for making 3.11 a personal affair. This is something that could not be realized at the grass-roots level for a long time.
I have the pleasure of being involved in Yahoo Japan Foundation as a trustee member, and it seems to me that activities such as teaching NPOs how to write messages for inviting donations and getting their activities featured through Yahoo! JAPAN News, are also a good encouragement to these organizations. Only a few major NPOs can afford advertising, and the rest of NPOs are all struggling to attract people’s attention.
Nishida: Fund raising does require good writing. We have been conducting writing seminars with lecturers from The Asahi Shimbun every year since around 2017. They write stories, and the stories are also published in Yahoo! JAPAN News.
Mitigate disaster and keep disaster memory alive by making disaster “a personal concern”
Hattori: I still visit the affected areas in Tohoku and keep in touch with people there, and one of the concerns I often hear from them is that people might gradually forget. I think that the best way to prevent this would be to be connected directly. How is Yahoo! JAPAN dealing with this problem?
Nishida: One way to do this is by raising the awareness among people. We plan out special programs of some kind on 3.11 every year to appeal to the public. We have been holding an annual cycling event named “Tour de Tohoku” in September since 2013, in which nearly 4,000 riders ride through the Tohoku region every year.
Through the event, we hope that the participants will see the damage caused to the areas and the process of the beautiful Tohoku scenery reviving gradually from the devastating damage, and share what they saw with their families and friends or through social media.
On the other hand, humankind has experienced and survived a myriad of disasters, yet a lot of the memories are lost today. So the important thing, I think, is to build mechanisms for preventing and mitigating disasters by learning lessons from past disasters even if the memories may become less vivid and clear over time.
Kataoka: Disasters can be a life-threatening matter, and so we keep delivering information to users to keep the memories alive. It is true, on the other hand, that it is sometimes difficult to get across the message to the audience depending on their levels of interest, and there are also others who simply do not respond to the call for action.
In the past decade, we have seen numerous disasters across the country, including the Kumamoto earthquake in 2016, typhoons, and torrential rains. As a lesson from 3.11, we at Yahoo! JAPAN always examine each time to what extent we were able to deliver information to the right people and were able to prompt action.
We asked experts what is the difference between those who take action at the time of a disaster and those who do not, and we have found that the closeness of the disaster and to what extent they think of it as their personal matter affect their behaviors. We therefore endeavor to understand each user and change the information that should be delivered to each region, so that they will think it as a matter of their personal concern.
We are also working on ways to get users engaged. We have added to the Yahoo! JAPAN Disaster Alert app a feature called “disaster map,” which allows users to post their location and the damage situation around them. When such posts reach a certain amount, push notifications are sent to the people living in the area. In this way, they can know the situation around them and in the region, and will think of it as their personal affair.
We think that delivering the kind of information and creating mechanisms that enable people to make decisions and act faster will lead to preventing memories from fading away in a broad sense.
Seamless support from the onset of disaster to reconstruction
―Yahoo! JAPAN launched “Disaster Support Platform” in December 2020.
Nishida: Disaster Support Platform is a one-stop platform for addressing disasters, from the onset of the disaster and emergency relief to recovery and reconstruction, and keeping memories from fading.
It allows Yahoo! JAPAN to deliver disaster information, support groups to ask for donations through Yahoo! JAPAN Internet Fund Raising, Yahoo Japan Foundation to contribute relief money, Social Emergency Management Alliance (SEMA) to send relief supplies in cooperation with manufacturers and logistics companies, and users to support the affected areas by buying products at the Yell Market. In this way, it aims to deliver end-to-end support from the onset of the disaster to the reconstruction stage.
With LINE joining the Z Holdings Group, we think we will be able to grow it further and create a broader, deeper, and more advanced mechanism.
Hattori: You conduct these initiatives as a business activity, do you have any specific targets set for disaster relief and reconstruction support?
Nishida: At times of emergency, it is imperative to mobilize and deliver supplies to the places in need, so we do not set any specific targets. When allocating aid money to support groups, we screen the candidates and confirm the results of their activities in their reports, but we do not set specific targets of what they should achieve and to what extent.
Going forward, however, we would like to work on “social impact evaluation” more, as a way of gauging how much impact our approaches have been able to create on society.
―What kind of vision do you have as the Z Holdings Group or as Yahoo! JAPAN?
Kataoka: Although Japan is prone to disasters, I often say to my team that we want to make Japan a “disaster-resilient country.” We believe that a disaster-resilient nation is a society with zero victims, and a society that acts to prevent disasters in advance.
In order to realize this, people’s awareness and attitude would certainly have to change, but as Yahoo! JAPAN, we would like to contribute by becoming the bridge to trigger such change in awareness and actions.
The key here is whether or not people will remember and rely on Yahoo! JAPAN at the time of disaster. To this end, we will continue to provide good service and aim to be a reliable media.
Hattori: How do you create points of contact between disaster prevention and everyday life?
Kataoka: Through my experience of delivering services, I have come to realize that it is not enough to send messages unilaterally. Some people are not mobilized without information input and interaction from friends and surroundings. We are realizing the need to deliver a variety of information through various delivery methods.
Some will take actions when they see announcements by the Metrological Agency or news while others will take a cue from information posted on disaster maps by other users. We think it important to have different kinds of contact points so that people will think of using Yahoo! JAPAN upon a disaster and be triggered to take actions.
Nishida: If we tell you to come to us when necessary, you would not know where to go; you may not even know what to find in Yahoo! JAPAN in the first place. We therefore think it important to have both push and personalized notifications.
If we can create something that let people know what they’d better do or should do through push notifications regardless of what they know or do not know, I think the kind of concern mentioned by Professor Hattori can be eliminated.
As an extreme example, if we can send people a message saying “Tsunami is coming. Get out of the house immediately and flee to the right,” the people receiving it can take actions immediately. The idea is to make it so that people in the midst of the disaster are sent the information instead of having to go and get it. With LINE, we will be able to do this more extensively and deeply. It is expected that disasters will become severer and more frequent in the future. Disaster response and recovery support is one of the focus areas of the Z Holdings Group, and we will strive to help transform Japan from a disaster-prone country to a disaster-resilient country through close cooperation across the group.
Hattori: It is not something that can be achieved by a single group, whether on an individual level or on a municipal or organizational level. Interactions such as communicating and receiving are expected to develop further in the next decade, and I thought I should keep up with this.
I believe that disaster prevention requires the imagination of each individual, which is also a kind of education, and I hope the university will be able to take a part in this.
Japan must become a disaster-resilient country. This may seem trivial when you see it in words, but I realized that the original experience of 3.11 has led us to develop this business steadily.