Two days after twin earthquakes rocked southern Japan in April, Takehiko Yoshizawa received a phone call from someone in the region who tearfully asked for a car.

The call prompted Yoshizawa, who leads the Japan Car Sharing Association in the north-eastern city of Ishinomaki, to travel 1,200 kilometres south-west to Kumamoto prefecture to start looking for cars for residents affected by the quakes which left 49 people dead.

“At first, I did not think they would need many cars in Kumamoto because it was not hit by a tsunami,” unlike in north-eastern Japan five years earlier, where about 18,500 people were killed in an earthquake and ensuing tsunami, said Yoshizawa.

“But, in Kumamoto, some cars were buried under a collapsed house and others damaged by falling debris. Luckily, we were soon able to find someone in neighbouring Kagoshima prefecture, who agreed to provide a car,” he said.

In two months, Yoshizawa was able to collect 36 cars and launched a Kumamoto branch, where residents can use the vehicles for free.

Ten of the vehicles were donated by Abekatsu Motors in Ishinomaki, one of the hardest-hit areas by the tsunami in March 2011.

Managing director Katsutoshi Abe said the company had wanted to give something back to society after receiving much help five years ago.

“We were very encouraged at that time,” Abe said. “It’s important to help each other.”

About 450 cars, including dozens of customers’ under repair, at the company were swept away by the 2011 tsunami and its office demolished, he recalled.

In Ishinomaki city alone, as many as 60,000 vehicles were lost in the disaster, Yoshizawa said.

In March 2011, Yoshizawa, a native of the western city of Himeji, began volunteering in Fukushima, where hundreds of thousands of residents were forced to leave their homes after the country’s worst nuclear accident, which was triggered by the quake and the tsunami.

A month later, his mentor Akira Yamada, who led a volunteer movement in recovery efforts following the 1995 Kobe earthquake, suggested Yoshizawa launch a community car-sharing programme in the tsunami-hit north-east.

Yoshizawa, a soft-spoken man with a ready smile, accepted the idea although he had never heard of the words “car sharing” and had seldom driven a car.

When he received the very first car donated by one company in Kyoto, “I had to drive to Ishinomaki from Kyoto and I got very nervous,” he recalled.

Yoshizawa set up the association in Ishinomaki, a conservative fishing town with the population of 148,000, and the group was able to collect dozens of vehicles within months, including 31 from used-car dealer Gulliver International.

Yoshizawa has boosted the number of cars to about 100, including Mitsubishi Motors’ electric vehicles i-MiEV, so that locals could utilize them.

Yoshizawa said he is grateful that the group’s initiative was supported by carmakers, parts manufacturers, many volunteers and friends.

In Ishinomaki, many citizens still tend to turn to authorities for help, however, he has seen volunteer work is woven into the fabric of more people’s daily life, he said.

Hisayo Aizawa, a city resident, joined Yoshizawa’s association as a volunteer.

“When I heard about the car-sharing programme, I thought there was something I could do to help,” said Aizawa.

In 2011, the tsunami killed her husband and swept away the couple’s rice store and house in the coast area. She and her children have lived in temporary housing in the city for nearly five years.

Since the fifth anniversary of the tsunami passed in March, the region has rarely captured national media attention. And many volunteers and non-governmental organizations left there even before the anniversary.

Meanwhile, Yoshizawa is eager to expand the group’s car-sharing programme in Ishinomaki. He and some other staff left Japan last week for Austria and Switzerland to study car sharing programmes there, including CARUSO Carsharing.

“I have never thought about leaving this place,” Yoshizawa said. “We would like to create a model of community car sharing.”

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.