From Marketing Executive to Store Manager
As head of a large fresh food store just by a nearby fishing port, his mission is to show the world that Fukushima Prefecture produce, from seafood to sake, is tasty and safe.
Looking at how purposefully Takashi Tokoyoda strides down the shopping aisles of the Hama-no-eki Matsukawa-ura Road Stop in the city of Soma, you could be forgiven for thinking he had spent his whole life in retail. In fact, Tokoyoda only started out as a store manager while in his mid-fifties, some eight years ago.
He began visiting Fukushima Prefecture in 2013 as a volunteer helping with the recovery efforts after the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear of 2011. At the time, he was employed in the marketing department of an international credit card company in Tokyo. “I thought I had a tough job,” Tokoyoda says. “Here, though, I saw people who were going through infinitely greater difficulties while staying positive and upbeat. I came to help them, but they were the ones who inspired me. The people here are amazing.”
In fact, Tokoyoda was so impressed with the spirit of the people that in 2015, when he was approached with the chance of a job in Fukushima, he leaped at it. After 29 years as a “salaryman” he became the manager of a municipal-backed supermarket in the town of Odaka that was still inside the evacuation zone. “I could see that Fukushima needed people—whether they were returning residents, new people moving in or tourists,” he says.
For Tokoyoda, marketing is a transferable skill. Whether you’re selling credit cards or cucumbers, what really counts is the ability to read and respond to customer needs. He put his skills to work right away, restocking the supermarket with instant meals for the single men who were working on the post-tsunami cleanup, before switching to fresh ingredients and sweets as families returned and schools reopened after the evacuation order was lifted.
“The people here are amazing. They inspire me” says Takashi Tokoyoda.
Tokoyoda was appointed store manager of Hama-no-eki Matsukawa-ura Road Stop in October 2020. He sees the store as the last step of the reconstruction drive that will help propel Soma out of the disaster’s shadow and into a more positive stage of development.
The road stop’s mission is to show the world that Fukushima seafood and vegetables are safe to eat and delicious. With the fisherman landing their catch in the port a couple of hundred meters away, the seafood is unbeatably fresh and competitively priced. Quasseto, the in-store seafood restaurant staffed by the wives of the local fisherman, is a particular draw.
And the road stop is succeeding in attracting converts: According to Tokoyoda, one-third of the customers are local, one-third from the rest of Fukushima and one-third from Miyagi, the prefecture to the north.
Tokoyoda is the face of the store. He regularly posts on social media, and uses his days off to gather video footage of the Fukushima countryside or fishermen at work, which he includes in his posts or shows on a widescreen TV in the store.
Tokoyoda dreams of forging this sort of real-life connection between local fishermen and the people who consume their products, something that is already common with farmers and their farm products. With his proven ability to forge new career paths, it would be unwise to bet against him.