Tens of Millions of Rupiah

Oshita Saburo, 55, expatriate in Indonesia

I have lived in Indonesia for 27 years. Although life on the high plain of Bandung was relatively relaxing, I was busy preparing for the founding party of our new company (sales of textile machinery, after-sale service and consultancy business) this March. On January 17th, a fax addressed to me arrived at my office, signaling the beginning of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake nightmare for me.

The fax, sent from Murata
Singapore and received at 8.25 am, bore this message: gAn earthquake measured 5 magnitude struck Kansai this morning. Our head office (Kyoto) is not contactable by phone, and the train services were reported to have stopped running. According to Sumitomo Bank, Hanshin has suffered the most serious damage but Kyoto is not affected. h

I hurriedly called my house in Itami-shi Higashiarioka but could not get through at all. There was no way I could learn about the extent of the damage caused. Bandung is famous for the Bandung Conference it held, but its telecommunication facilities remain insufficient, like those of other cities of the developing countries in Asia (with the exception of their capitals). Thus, information was slow to come in. This might be the reason why the textile-related Japanese companies in this region did not receive any information.

Then, an overseas business manager sent in another fax at 10.30 am (local receipt time 8.30 am): gAt 5.40 this morning, an earthquake hit Hanshin. With the seismic center at Awajishima, the quake measured 6 magnitude for Kobe and 5 for Kyoto. In Kobe, the elevated structures of some expressways and railroads have fallen, and more than 10 locations are on fire. The phone service is down, and direct connection is currently unavailable. Itami, where Mr Oshitafs house is located, did not suffer serious damage. Although our head office at Kyoto is operating as per normal, JR has stopped running. As a result, our employees commuting by JR cannot come to work. We will keep you informed of any updates from Itami. There were two aftershocks at 3 magnitude, which hit at 7.30 and 9.30 am, respectively.h

Although I was worried about my family, I had an important appointment to attend, and did not have the time to ring them. After returning to my company residence slightly before 7.00 pm, I watched the TV news on the Indonesia national broadcast station. I was struck dumb at the images shown, and speechless at the ruined state of Kobe, which was so different from what I had used to growing up. Houses, buildings and the elevated structures of the expressways had collapsed. Flames and explosions were everywhere. Kobe had been turned into a battlefield virtually, and the death toll was reported at 500.

I was worried sick of my family, and did not sleep a wink.

The next morning, a fax came in from the head office: gToday, the Kinki region is still not contactable by phone from within Japan. Fire outbreaks are the biggest problem. The fires in Nagada-ku of Kobe continue. The death toll is estimated at more than 2000. As at 7.00, 1800 death victims were confirmed. There seemed to be fewer death victims from the Itami district. However, as Kobe has suffered too huge a damage, news reports have been focusing on this area only.h

8.30 am. The telephone service was still not available. 9.00 am. Browsing the International Satellite version of the Asahi newspaper, I was shocked at the scale of damage.

Yesterday afternoon, the expatriates of other major companies in Bandung, such as Toray, Teijin and Sumitomo, were asked to leave for Japan because their houses were located at Hanshin. There was no information from the Japanese embassy in Jakarta. It did not act in the anti-Japanese riot when pm Tanaka visited Indonesia in 1974, or the Jakarta Incident (Japanese Red Army) in 1986. There were several other emergencies in which it failed to do anything meaningful. gWhy do we even have this embassy here? Who does it serve?h I could not but asked these questions. Faxes of newspaper clips were received from the Jakarta Japanese Association.

10.00 am. My call to my family in Japan finally got through. My nuclear family consists of my wife and daughter. Both were buried under the chests for two hours before they were rescued. Everything in the house toppled, and broken glass items were scattered around. They could not even walk about in the room. Around 4 pm, two employees from the Kyoto head office came to help. They re-erected the fallen fridge and chests. My family went without tap water, gas and electricity for 3 days, and made do with water and groceries provided by an acquaintance, who was an employee of a trading company.

However, locally, my company was put into a difficult situation indirectly by the disaster. We were unable to inspect our machinery kept in the warehouse at the Kobe port, because entry to the Kobe port and its peripheral warehouses were prohibited. Also, we were unable to perform export inspection for SGS (Swissf inspection body). As a result, the shipment was delayed significantly. I managed to visit my customers and offer explanations. However, shipments could not be delayed for too long anyway. At this moment, 500 million yen worth of machinery was put on hold. Luckily, my customers were understanding and did not make any cancellation, or it would have been my worst-feared scenario.

Most Japanese joint-venture companies import their raw materials or parts from Japan, but since the Kobe port is not operating, Company A of the textile industry, Company M of the home appliances industry and Company T and S of the automobile industry had stopped production temporarily, which dealt a severe blow to the Indonesian economy.

January 22nd, the local arrangements I made as a result of the earthquake were more or less in place. So I made preparations to go back to Japan, making use of the provision for expatriates to return home temporarily in the event of disasters. The day before my departure, the representatives of our local employees (25 of them) presented me with condolence money of 10 million rupiah (approximately 500,000 yen). The money came from voluntary donations by our employees who earned a minimum salary of 4300 rupiah (about 195 yen) a day. They might be poor but they were compassionate. In contrast, what had the Japanese embassy done? I had been through a lot of things during this Hanshin-Awaji earthquake episode.