Kumamoto Prefecture is still reeling after back-to-back large scale earthquakes struck the region late last week. Yet somehow Japan’s major convenience store chains have managed to get 97 percent of their shops up and running in a matter of days.

■ Harsh environment

While the reopening of so many stores so soon after the major quakes is of course fantastic news, let’s not take this to mean things are going well in Kumamoto. Aftershocks continue to rock the area, hampering crucial search-and-rescue attempts in unsafe buildings along torn up streets sometimes buried under meters of rubble from landslides.

For days after the 6.2 and 7.0 magnitude quakes hit, major supermarkets have been closed. Also, banks and ATMs have largely been taken out of service, making access to food and commerce in general in the area extremely difficult. Long after the physical damage of the earthquakes is tallied, these residual effects to business owners can be devastating as well.

Luckily, Japan’s beloved convenience stores or “konbini” have proven to be resilient thanks in part to their small scales combined with a wide swath of locations, and in part to clever planing.

▼ “The Lawson right by my home. I hope the clerks are okay. They said the day before that they were okay but I’m worried… I’m leaving Kumamoto for a while from today. I hope there’s no more damage. I hope Kumamoto can be rebuilt soon.”
[21 April, five days after the 7.0 earthquake]


■ Lawson

As of 19 April, 134 of 141 Lawson convenience stores were open in Kumamoto Prefecture. One of the challenges facing businesses in the area is a lack of staff due to evacuations and of course damage to people’s. Lawson’s headquarters was prepared for such an eventuality and promptly dispatched 120 people to man their stores in the area.

Also, special logistics were developed based on lessons learnt during the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. Although the number of available delivery trucks and routes was greatly reduced, Lawson could efficiently send them out carrying only the essentials of food and water. Meanwhile shipments of baked goods were flown in from Tokyo, all without hesitation.

▼ “Kikudomi FamilyMart in Koshi City, Kumamoto: they have a whole bunch of Chinese dumplings and fried foods today! There still aren’t much baked goods, onigiri, or bentos, but instant ramen and tea came in!!”
[19 April, three days after the 7.0 earthquake]


■ FamilyMart

Of FamilyMart’s 163 locations in Kumamoto Prefecture, 153 had reopened as of 19 April. However, the chains production facilities where items like bentos come from took on significant damage from the quakes which meant they had to divert food from their facilities in neighboring Nagasaki and Fukuoka Prefectures.

Also, FamilyMart’s store brand of bottled water has been arriving as fast as possible from Miyazaki Prefecture to the east.

▼ “The supermarkets and convenience stores in Mashiki are mostly closed. However, recovery is underway and it seemed like 7-Eleven was the fastest to get up and running again. As of the 17th about 70 percent of AEON affiliated supermarkets and FamilyMarts were up and running. It’s a small sense of security.”
[21 April, five days after the 7.0 earthquake]

■ 7-Eleven

Quake damage has also taken a toll on 7-Eleven’s four food production centers in Kumamoto Prefecture, and yet they have managed to reopen a miraculous 288 out of 289 stores by 19 April. The only store remaining closed was due to the structural damage being too severe.

They too have been able to quickly divert food and water from locations outside of Kumamoto such as Fukuoka thanks to careful planning and swift execution.

■ “Finally…”

Asahi Shimbun met with the owner of a Lawson in the town of Takamori, 36-year-old Tetsuro Sumiyoshi. Faced with potential bankruptcy, Sumiyoshi breathed a sigh of relief and muttered, “finally…” as a delivery truck rolled in on the morning of the 19th—the first since the 7.0 earthquake on April 16.

Sumiyoshi’s store lined its shelves with onigiri and sandwiches, but all of it was quickly bought up by the local residents and rescue/repair workers. For some time, this will be a common occurrence for convenience stores all over Kumamoto. Shops are currently unable to remain open for a full 24 hours due to lack of stock, and the general policy is for managers to determine when to close for the day.

▼ “Kumamoto Kaminouradori FamilyMart will be open from 10:00am to 5:00pm. We expect to receive 300 onigiri. We hope many customers will come.”
[18 April, two days after the 7.0 earthquake]


It’s far from 100 percent operational, but the convenience stores are keeping cash flowing, keeping communities supplied with much-needed food and water, and are providing an important step towards a return to normalcy. One Takamori resident told Asahi, “having food to buy nearby is really helpful,” as she carried out 5,000 yen (US$45) worth of it out of a Lawson convenience store.

Source: Asahi Shimbun (Japanese)
Top Image: Amazon (Edited by RocketNews24)