Couple who Experienced 2011 Quake Opens Shop in Kyushu to Help Residents Hit by Torrential Rain

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rumi Nunome, right, and her husband, Mitsuyoshi, talk with customers in their supermarket in Hita, Oita Prefecture, in December.

Nearly 10 years after experiencing the Great East Japan Earthquake while living in Fukushima Prefecture, a couple decided to settle in the Amagase hot spring area of Hita, Oita Prefecture. Last July, just about two weeks before they moved there, Kyushu was hit by torrential rain.

Today Mitsuyoshi Nunome, 60, and his wife, Rumi, 61, run Amagase Store, a supermarket located in a quarter of the hot spring resort area.

They want to help convey the charms of Hita to visitors while cheering up the local residents. Many of the vegetables sold in the store are harvested in the city.

In Oita Prefecture, six people from the cities of Hita and Yufu were killed in last year’s torrential rain. The damage to agriculture, fisheries and cultural assets has totaled about ¥60.8 billion as of October 2020, surpassing the ¥50.7 billion in damage by torrential rain in northern Kyushu in 2012.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, Mitsuyoshi was working as a manager of a convenience store in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. In 2013, the couple moved to Kobe to open a convenience store. When Mitsuyoshi turned 60 last year, he parted with the store, saying, “Let’s try farming in a warmer area.”

While searching for a place to move to, they learned about Hita when researching Oita Prefecture, which they had always been interested in. He visited Hita in June and liked the city’s atmosphere, so he decided to move there.

Not long after deciding to live near the hot spring resort, torrential rain hit Hita on July 6. The Kusu River, which runs through the hot spring resort area, overflowed. A railway bridge was washed away, and many hotels and ryokan inns were forced to close.

According to the city of Hita, seven of the 14 hotels and ryokan inns in the hot spring resort area that are members of the Amagase Hot Spring Ryokan Association have not been able to resume operations even seven months after the disaster.

For the Nunomes, the scenes shown on TV reminded them of what they had seen in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Luckily, their new home was not affected by the disaster and they moved in about two weeks later.

Believing that it is natural to help people in need, Mitsuyoshi began volunteering to deliver bento boxed lunches.

During the course of his activities, he heard many residents saying that they wished there was a supermarket open.

Although he was worried whether he would be able to run a business in the mountainous area, he decided to open the store.

“This is the only thing we can do,” he said. The couple hoped to help soothe the anxiety of the residents.

A local resident introduced the couple to a contractor for remodeling work to create the store. After three months, the store opened at the end of November.

Nearly every other day, they drive 30 minutes to the city center to buy items for the shop.

The couple envisions the supermarket becoming a place where local residents and tourists can interact with each other.

In January, a woman in the neighborhood gave the couple scarves.

“Use them together,” the woman said.

In all their years running stores, it was the first time the couple had such an experience.