LIHUE — Two Grove Farm executives who took part in an August leadership residency in Japan say it inspired them. Now, they want to inspire others.
The “Leading from the Heart” training sponsored by Hawaii Asia Pacific Association brought 11 business leaders of Hawaii to Japan for five days of training and interaction with families and businesses in the Tohoku Region that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“We heard remarkable stories of survival,” said Grove Farm project specialist Royce Kawabata.
The trip taught them to connect with people in a way that helps them to improve and move forward with their lives, Kawabata said. These were people who lost family and possessions and it was different from watching the news or hearing secondhand reports from friends with family in Japan.
“We saw people up close who lost so much of their life in a moment, but yet continue to push forward and give to the community whatever they can,” he said.
Among the highlights was performing service work with a new company, Seisho-kan, a producer of flower oil for cosmetic creams and hair products from the Camellia or Tsubaki seeds within the town of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture. It emerged from a company that was lost in the tsunami.
The Tsubaki seeds will be ready for collection in the late fall from under the camellia trees. Kawabata helped with weeding and removing undergrowth around trees to help with easier collection.
One volunteer was a tsunami victim who gave Kawabata a hachi maki, or headband-scarf to wear during a morning of work. He tried to return it at the end of the day and she insisted that he keep it.
The interpreter explained that she found the headband in what remained of her home. It was used during the annual Matsuri festival that hasn’t been held in the five years since the tsunami that claimed 70 percent of her home town’s population.
“There was nobody left to carry it on,” he said.
The experience provided an understanding of the capacity of giving even in a time of despair. She parted with something that obviously meant a great deal to her.
“It really hit home to me because she had nothing but would have given us the shirt off her back,” Kawabata said.
The group interacted with successful corporate executives and CEOs who left lucrative careers to return to their childhood communities to do what they could to help rebuild from scratch.
Grove Farm Vice President David Hinazumi reflected on the principle of happiness and how it fit the trip theme of “leadership from the heart.” A good leader enjoys happiness through success and personal fulfillment that comes from doing good for others, he said.
“That is where social entrepreneurship comes into play,” Hinazumi said.
A denim factory owner in Kessenuma opened up her building to 150 refugees after the tsunami. Not only did she let them live in the premises, but also taught them sewing and other skills.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she delivered her powerful message, he said. Now they must apply it to what they do and how they do it.
“It’s about what to do when things are rough,” he said. “It about how things come together and don’t come apart.”
There are similarities to the way the Kauai community responded to the hurricanes.
People put aside petty difference and went out of their way to help one another, he said, but there was not the level of death and destruction that Japan has had to endure.
“You would be amazed about how noble people are in these disasters,” he said. “It is nice to have that feeling no matter what and hopefully it won’t take another disaster to find that mindset.”
The Japanese business environment is still very traditional but changing with each generation, he said. There is an intense focus about work as the priority but the drive to succeed among young leaders today is to be as dedicated to their families and communities as they are to the bottom line.
“Young leaders have this bigger sense of what it is to be successful,” Hinazumi said. “It is attributable to the new generation but it was probably accelerated because of the disaster.”
Now that the trip is concluded the next step is to build on ideas and stay in close contact, he said.
The group will work on a community project to benefit Hawaii and Japan. Some of the business people were already familiar with Kauai, and understand the basic concept of the island chain system, as is Japan.
“In a sense this was all kind of geared toward providing some meaning to everyone’s life,” Hinazumi said.
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.