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Chapter 4. Round-table Talk of Project Members

What Save the Memory Project Made Us Realize

The “Save the Memory Project” (hereinafter “Project”) started in April 2011 and completed all activities in March 2015, resulting in the restoration and digitization of 418,721 photos and the return of 91,477 photos in total. During this period, volunteers from the Ricoh Group contributed to the Project totaled 518. In this chapter, five of the Project members who played leading roles look back on their activities.

Hidenao Ubukata

Hidenao Ubukata

Management of Technology Center, Ricoh Company, Ltd.

The Project originator and leader. Partly because he was the leader in the new business development division, including photography-related businesses, when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in 2011, Mr. Ubukata himself initiated the Project and continued to lead the overall activity.

Mizuei Waraya

Mizuei Waraya

Major Accounts Marketing Division, Ricoh Japan Corporation

Mr. Waraya lived in Fukushima Prefecture at the time of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He participated in the Project from the Tohoku Sales and Marketing Division of Ricoh Japan (Sendai, Miyagi Pref.). As the only local employee among the core members, he was in charge of operation at “Natori Save the Memory Factory” and worked at the front desk of the Photo Centers in Onagawa (Miyagi Pref.), Watari (Miyagi Pref.), and Minamisoma (Fukushima Pref.).

Eiko Nakamoto

Eiko Nakamoto

Sustainability Management Division, Ricoh Company, Ltd.

Ms. Nakamoto initially was in charge of corporate social responsibility (CSR) division and subsequently joined the core members of the Project when she was newly assigned in the New Business Development Division. She supported the local activities at the Project site as the Project Manager from Ricoh’s head office. She led the startup and operation of the “Tokyo Save the Memory Factory” (Ohmori, Ohta-ku) and “Ebina Save the Memory Factory” (Kanagawa Pref.).

Daisuke Hishinuma

Daisuke Hishinuma

Corporate Division, Ricoh Company, Ltd.

Because he was involved in the cloud storage services business in the New Business Development Division, Mr. Hishinuma joined the core members of the Project and primarily led the photograph restoration team as a full-time member of the “Natori Save the Memory Factory” (Miyagi Pref.), the center of local activities. In addition, he took charge of establishing “Minamisanriku Photo Center” (Miyagi Pref.) and worked at the front desk of this Photo Center.

Takaharu Asahina

Takaharu Asahina

Corporate Division, Ricoh Company, Ltd.

Mr. Asahina was involved in the marketing of spherical camera (RICOH THETA) in the New Business Development Division. He worked full-time in photo restoration at the “Natori Save the Memory Factory”. He also took charge of establishing “Rikuzentakata Save the Memory Factory” (Iwate Pref.) and worked at the front desk of this Photo Center.

[ 1 ]
Good timing! Let’s do this together.

UBUKATA:
Let me start out our talk since I was the originator of the “Save the Memory Project” (hereinafter “Project”). In 2011, I was in charge of developing new businesses for consumers such as the cloud storage service “quanp” and the spherical camera “RICOH THETA”. Then, the earthquake struck and a week later, I heard the news that photos were being collected in the earthquake-affected areas. I wondered if I could be of any help as a person engaging in a photography-related business, which became the origin of the Project. But then, one volunteer could only do so much to help.
HISHINUMA:
Mr. Ubukata, you had been saying since right after the earthquake, “Let’s do something.” Back then, I was involved in business for an event photo-sharing service in your team, but all events and business were suspended. At that time, I heard that one of our clients, an event company, was doing voluntary work in the disaster-affected area, and I wondered if I could do anything, too, and, if there was, I wanted to start immediately.
UBUKATA:
On March 25, the government announced guidelines on debris removal which stated that photo albums, Buddhist mortuary tablets, and any other items recognized as being of value to the owners shall not be discarded, but instead, be temporarily stored. The guidelines, however, did not clarify instructions on what to do with the temporarily stored photos. I imagined that the amount of photos in the temporary storage would be enormous and it would be difficult to maintain them for a long time. Then, I thought this would be something Ricoh should do since we are in the camera business, and we consider highly of corporate social responsibility. I immediately drew up a proposal and had it approved by the management in April. I remember it was right after that, when Mr. Hishinuma told me he wanted to go to Ishinomaki.
HISHINUMA:
That’s right. I had recently heard that the event company I just mentioned had been working in Ishinomaki to help the victims, so I really wanted to join. Then, I talked to Mr. Ubukata and he said, “Good timing,” so I decided to participate in the Project. I was to visit the disaster-affected areas as an initial work of the Project. Mr. Asahina, you visited with me.
ASAHINA:
Yes. I was engaging in the planning and marketing for THETA at the time, but Mr. Ubukata asked me to join the Project and I immediately said yes. When I saw the devastation myself, I was lost for words but at the same time, I began to think I wanted to do whatever I can to help the victims. I think seeing the actual disaster myself, my subsequent activities were significantly affected.
UBUKATA:
I assigned Mr. Hishinuma and Mr. Asahina first because through our daily work together, I knew you were mentally tough. Around that time, Ms. Nakamoto also said she would join us as a full-time member.
NAKAMOTO:
I joined as a full-time from June. At the time of the earthquake, I was in CSR department being in charge of CSR activities and helping create new business in rural villages in India, a project called the Base of the Pyramid (BOP). I began helping the Project from my CSR position right from the start in April, and two months later, I joined the Project as a full-time member when I was transferred to Mr. Ubukata’s team.

[ 2 ]
We decided to commit ourselves to the Project.

UBUKATA:
We initiated the Project, but we didn’t know how to start in the ongoing aftermath of the disaster. It would have only caused trouble to the local area if we had just gone into the area, so we called local volunteer groups and asked about the situation, but we had no idea when we could start our activities. We thought nothing could be done if we didn’t just start, so we decided to fly to the disaster-affected area to gather information.
NAKAMOTO:
At the same time, we were already approaching Ricoh Group companies to help with the Project.
UBUKATA:
We started discussing with the Group companies about issues such as how to use cloud storage to store digitized photos and how to build a system environment including search tools. Meanwhile, we slowly began to receive more information on the local situation and were informed that we could borrow a warehouse from a Ricoh Group company in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, so we decided that would be our activity base.
HISHINUMA:
It was in August when the Project started in full swing. We named the place “Natori Save the Memory Factory” (“Natori Factory”) and decided to stay there full-time to start the photo restoration. From then, on weekends we stayed at the site and returned home only on weekends.
UBUKATA:
I was able to fully commit to the Project because my boss at that time encouraged me greatly. It was also the time when the entire company began to support the reconstruction activities. On the other hand, I expected that the Project would be a prolonged endeavor and thought that we needed to find a local employee who would lead the Project. A Group company’s president, then, introduced Mr. Waraya to us, saying that he was a reliable person.
WARAYA:
At that time, I was involved in risk management of solution business and, although I was not affected by the tsunami, some of my relatives barely escaped. I was hoping for the earliest possible recovery and reconstruction, so when I heard about the Project, I joined the members to make some kind of a contribution.
UBUKATA:
Mr. Waraya not only contributed to our activities at the Natori Factory, but subsequently engaged in various efforts such as organizing activities at the Photo Centers and providing the “Save the Memory Service Package,” which will be described later.
WARAYA:
I knew from the beginning that the work could not be done easily. Particularly when I witnessed the situation in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, where we decided to build a Photo Center in October, I figured that we needed to work at this more than a year or two and felt that I was really committed to the Project. Didn’t you all have the same feeling?
NAKAMOTO:
I felt the same way. I was assigned to support the Project from the Head Office side when Mr. Ubukata and other core members decided to stay full time in Miyagi Prefecture to build the Natori Factory. I thought we needed a huge commitment when I heard about the situation of the disaster-affected areas. The amount of photos that needed to be recovered was huge, the work environment was harsh, and there were tons of things to do.

[ 3 ]
Don’t stop. Think while running.

HISHINUMA:
Building work infrastructure was time-consuming. We had to start from building the infrastructure like network system in a warehouse.
ASAHINA:
Before the startup, we had to learn how to clean photos. We heard that photo imaging company was organizing their employees to volunteer to clean photos and we asked them to let five of us, including the full-time members, join them. They kindly taught us many things such as how it was necessary to wear plastic gloves and how to dry photos by hanging them on a net.
NAKAMOTO:
Our Recycling Business Division gave us recycled multifunction printers (MFP) capable of A3 size scanning.
HISHINUMA:
Yes, they did. But when we turned on the copiers, the circuit breaker tripped. (Laughs.) The power exceeded the capacity as the warehouse we rented didn’t normally use that much electricity.
ASAHINA:
The hardest part was the heat. The temperature would go up to more than 40 degrees Celsius and we didn’t have any air conditioning. We found a large fan, but it wasn’t enough at all. We were all sweating so much, but we kept on working.
HISHINUMA:
The chief of the warehouse felt sorry for us and added a fan.
ASAHINA:
All the tables and chairs and various tools and equipment were prepared by the Group company. They told us that we could ask anytime for anything else we needed.
UBUKATA:
Difficulty in the beginning was creating workflow. It took us some time to determine the resource allocation to efficiently implement cleaning, drying, scanning, and creating a database. We didn’t have time to stop and think, so we were literally thinking while running. We started the restoration work with a group of 10 members including people from the Group company.
ASAHINA:
Time needed for cleaning was the most difficult to estimate. Some photo album pages had sludge that had to be very carefully wiped off, but some could be cleaned easily with a brush, so the time requirement was different for each photo. So, we changed our initial line process to a cell method, by which one person was in charge of the whole task. This significantly reduced the processing time.
HISHINUMA:
Also, I never expected drying would take such a long time. The tough time we experienced is described in Chapter 2. The work was much more painstaking than I had expected.
UBUKATA:
The drying space gradually expanded as we try to ventilate the room.
HISHINUMA:
We had meeting every evening and discussed challenges and solutions.
WARAYA:
We experienced so much trial and error like the problem with the pressure of the scanner platen, but eventually we were able to consistently process 1,000 sheets per MFP per day from the initial 200 sheets as we learned to estimate the time spent for the previous process and also got used to the work. But we were still running out of time.

[ 4 ]
We won’t make it in time! Help!

ASAHINA:
We cleaned and dried all the photos that had been collected and restored them to a condition with which they were able to be returned to the owners. However we excluded photos with missing images, those only of scenery, and those with unidentifiable faces.
HISHINUMA:
We discussed to set the criteria. We made samples of photos to be scanned and those not to scan and posted them to help the workers distinguish which photos to work on.
NAKAMOTO:
I initiated the “Tokyo Save the Memory Factory” (“Tokyo Factory”) to ease the workload of Natori. It was the beginning of September. I talked with the General Affairs Department and made space in the Ohmori office (Ohmori, Ohta-ku), and approached employees to gather members. I also visited you in Natori to gather information as to what was needed to start the Factory.
UBUKATA:
The work process sharply increased once the cleaning at the Tokyo Factory began. Thanks to Tokyo, the Natori team was able to concentrate on scanning.
HISHINUMA:
We had members from the Tokyo Factory come to Natori to learn how to work when you were starting up the Tokyo team.
NAKAMOTO:
I sent four members. But the addition of Tokyo was still not enough, so in February 2012 we established the “Ebina Save the Memory Factory” (”Ebina Factory”) (Ebina, Kanagawa Pref.). At that time, one member of the Tokyo Factory went to Ebina to teach the work know-how.
UBUKATA:
The assignment of full-time members was to be finished at the end of March 2012, so we were in a hurry. We were worried that the work could not be completed in time. Then, we called out for volunteers within Ricoh Group and we established a system to smoothly take in volunteers. At the end of the year, the work process was faster than it had been when the Natori Factory first started, but we were still behind schedule and, on short notice, we requested the establishment of a Factory in Ebina. We were all saying, “Ms. Nakamoto, please help!” (Laughs.)
NAKAMOTO:
After that, we continued to respond flexibly to meet the Project needs on an ad-hoc basis. This way of working is certainly laborious, but I was also excited and motivated, and looking back now, although the event was painful I think I was enjoying the work.

[ 5 ]
A moving experience that changed our values.

HISHINUMA:
I think the “Minamisanriku Photo Center” (Miyagi Pref.) was opened around the same time as the establishment of the Tokyo Factory.
UBUKATA:
This was the first Photo Center. It was set up in a large tent of the Volunteer Center, but considering the upcoming winter cold, it would be difficult to continue Photo Center operation there, we moved to container house. Not only in Minamisanriku, but we kept having trouble finding places.
ASAHINA:
Rikuzentakata Photo Center which was built next was spacious, but it was on a hill and far from center of the town, which made it inconvenient for people to come and look for their photos. So we moved the Photo Center again. I remember it was already the middle of winter and the weather was brutal.
WARAYA:
It was also difficult to find a place for the “Minamisoma Photo Center” (Fukushima Pref.), which was the last Photo Center to open. First it was at an office next to a waste disposal facility, and then, we couldn’t decide on a place for a while and the opening was delayed.
ASAHINA:
The opening of the Photo Centers was a turning point in the Project activities. I don’t mean to complain, but the photo restoration was mentally demanding. Not because of the work itself, but those photos broke my heart. They were covered with mud and damaged by bacteria, but then, after a cleaning, the smiles on the photos would come up. Seeing families having such a happy time, I couldn’t help but wonder if those people were still alive… Around that time, Photo Centers opened in Minamisanriku and Rikuzentakata, so I took the Project members in Natori to visit these two Photo Centers. It was in October. Everyone’s mind was changed with the visit. The harsh reality was still the same, but we realized that what we were doing was making someone smile.
HISHINUMA:
The visits to the Photo Centers were also a turning point for me. I found many photos with missing images during the restoration work and honestly I wondered if it was really necessary to keep them. But when I read the feedback on the photos in the notebooks placed at the Photo Centers, I realized how many people were happy to see those photos and that the value of photographs was not in the image quality or condition. This totally changed my opinion of the value of photographs.
WARAYA:
I was also encouraged by the happy faces of the people who had been able to get their photos back and, at the same time, felt fortunate to have participated in this Project. I also felt the power of photographs. They were literally saving memories.
UBUKATA:
I saw a comment in one of the feedback notebooks that said, “The photos I wanted to use for my wedding all got washed away by the tsunami. But I found some here and I am really happy.” I realized that the photos linked memories to the future. I had engaged in various photography projects, but this was the first time that I felt the value of photographs so pragmatically. It was a strong reminder that, as a member of the Project, I was treating the photographs as the proof of people’s lives.
HISHINUMA:
One of the Project members commented that he had never been appreciated so much in the 30 years of his career. It was not an exaggeration. Everyone was moved strongly to such an extent.
ASAHINA:
At the end of the year, the volunteers at Natori were also volunteering to work overtime. At that time, it warmed my heart.

[ 6 ]
Efforts made towards the hope of sustainability of the Project.

UBUKATA:
The work process was going smoothly around December. The work schedule of the full-time members from Tokyo was changed from a system of having all three of them consistently work to a shift system with each person working for a week at a time.
WARAYA:
The work at the Photo Centers was also literally thinking while moving our hands. For example, in the beginning, the photo searching system was not easy for the elderly people to use. While watching them use the system we noticed that it needed to be upgraded to one that could be used with only one finger. We often held meetings to discuss how we could increase the rate of returning the photos to the owners and continued to make improvements.
UBUKATA:
Such improvements were made locally whenever possible, but when it wasn’t possible, we called Ms. Nakamoto to ask for help. (Laughs.) The way this coordination functioned so well was also a characteristic of the Project.
WARAYA:
The rate of returning the photos dramatically increased in September 2012 when we installed NEC’s face recognition searching system, “Neo Face”.
HISHINUMA:
It was extremely difficult to find one photo from the thousands of photos. The elderly people especially would get tired and, in most cases, could not go through all of the photos. We added a bookmark function to mark the photos up to the point they had already checked, but the burden of physically looking through the photos was too much. That burden was drastically reduced by Neo Face and the search efficiency dramatically increased. We could all feel the power of technology.
UBUKATA:
In that sense, I feel the changing times with this Project. In other words, the current digital technology made many things possible that were not possible in the past, I think. Be it the computer performance, mobile phones, or the network environment; such technologies are more affordable now. Also, the increase in SNS usage made it easier for people to communicate with one another. We would have had much difficulty if this was ten years ago. The Project was made possible with benefit from such technology and our creativity.
HISHINUMA:
You’re right. I think that helped us organize the “Save the Memory Service Package” (“Service Package”)* when we ended our support as a company in March 2012.
* Save the Memory Service Package: The package of the set of cloud storage, searching system, tools necessary for photo restoration, and MFPs and know-how learned in the Project allowed local government or volunteer groups to continue the photo collection activities on their own.
UBUKATA:
This idea also came naturally to us. We thought that sustainability was the most important thing about this Project, so we were saying, “It would be great if we can provide the tools and know-how in one package.” Mr. Waraya could take charge of this service.
WARAYA:
The “Watari Photo Center” (Miyagi Pref.) opened in September 2012 and the “Minamisoma Photo Center” opened in October 2012. Both were established using this Service Package.
NAKAMOTO:
I think the Service Package was welcomed by the Photo Centers to have given the clarity of responsibility. Each group had a different response about whether or not to invest their resources in returning photos.
UBUKATA:
That’s true. Each local government had a different way of treating their photos. The reality was that they couldn’t yet take so much responsibility for the photos. Whether or not there was an organization responsible for the activities made a difference in the progress of subsequent activities.

[ 7 ]
The spirit grown in the Project lives on in the heart of each member.

HISHINUMA:
Although the company didn’t come forward and make any further contributions after April 2012, the Project continued. It wasn’t difficult to continue the Project because, fortunately, Mr. Asahina, Ms. Nakamoto, and I, the core members, were all in Mr. Ubukata’s team and Mr. Waraya worked locally in the disaster-affected areas.
UBUKATA:
It was easy to continue since the Ricoh welcomes employees’ voluntary activities as part of its corporate culture.
WARAYA:
As a local movement, we also started initiatives in view of how we could make the solutions business that contribute to the reconstruction. It was a shift from the stage of helping the victims as volunteers to the stage of supporting reconstruction through our business.
UBUKATA:
I think some of the factors that made it possible include the fact that Factories and Photo Centers were founded through the trial and error for a year and the operation began to run smoothly and we left the facilities with the Service Package so that they could be implemented in other areas.
NAKAMOTO:
Another thing that can be added, I think, is the transmission of know-how among the volunteer workers. We learned about the activities of Natori when we started the Tokyo Factory, which was transferred to Ebina. After that, the same thing happened in Watari and Minamisoma.
UBUKATA:
I consider that “Pay it forward.” I felt strongly in this Project that good intentions would come together in this world and connecting such good intentions would create a power to move society. For me, having the opportunity to realize that the world is filled with so many good intentions was the best thing obtained from the endeavors of this Project. At the same time, it inspired me many suggestions for new business.
HISHINUMA:
What I learned that we need to have the courage just to take one step forward. I experienced many occasions where I just had to do it and do it voluntarily, which would encourage other people to start moving. Another thing is the importance of leadership. I carried out the Project with many people from both inside and outside of the Company, but I believe I was able to take that first step forward because of the person who was determined and asked others in a loud voice to join him.
ASAHINA:
In my case, I joined the Project while I was launching the THETA project, and I think the impact of the activities was significant, considering that I was able to realize the value of one photograph. The Project reminded me of a person’s emotions when recollecting photographs or memories, even if the photos had been taken casually, as well as the significance of capturing the atmosphere at the time in one shot. That is why I am so appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the activities.
WARAYA:
Most of the Photo Center visitors and volunteers working for similar projects had suffered or had families and friends who suffered from the disaster. I realized while talking with them that the victims and those who were not victims had very different impressions of the activities. This is the same for my daily work. A party directly involved in a project and an outside party respond differently. This reminds me that I must sincerely offer solutions to people who consider themselves directly involved.
NAKAMOTO:
I look back and think that in this Project, we completed such an enormous volume of work at such a high speed. We often faced situations where we had no idea where we were heading, but I think we overcame the obstacles because all of us were united and worked seriously on the Project. Our regular work should also become more exciting if we keep taking on challenges in this way.
UBUKATA:
We are all making use of our experience in the Project after it ended. We had such important experiences that we will remember them throughout our lifetime. In this sense, the Project proves to be our own “Save the Memory.”

(April 2015, at Ricoh Technology Center)