MINAMI-SANRIKU, Miyagi Prefecture--Fumio Hatakeyama has been a car salesman for 40 years, and in the small seaside towns and villages where he works, it is still the human connection that sells automobiles.
He often times closes a deal dockside with a fisherman over a friendly glass of "shochu."
But since the Great East Japan Earthquake, Hatakeyama hasn't been selling any cars. Instead, he has been making the rounds of his customers to help in the process of disposing of their autos, which were turned into junk by the March 11 quake and tsunami.
Hatakeyama says he fondly remembers each car he sold and the happy faces of his customers.
"For me, each new car sold is like a daughter I gave away in marriage," says the 62-year-old, choking back tears as he looks at hundreds of destroyed cars piled up at the site of a former elementary school. "Seeing cars destroyed like this ... "
Nine months after the earthquake, the dealer remains the owner of many of the junked cars in the dump because loan repayments had not been completed.
The company Hatakeyama works for was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. The chairman, president and six colleagues were killed. Hatakeyama remains as the sole person with the know-how for the junking car procedure.
When notified by the prefecture about a car that needs to be discarded, Hatakeyama goes to a dump and checks the vehicle identification number before he meets the owner.
To junk such cars, the owner is required to submit the dealership's registered seal and fill out a form.
He says some of his customers are glad to know the fate of the cars, even though they were wrecked.
One woman broke down in tears, saying, "My husband has not come back yet."
Hatakeyama says when he sees the junked cars piling up in the auto graveyards he thinks to himself, "Is the owner of this car safe? What happened to that family who were so happy with their new car?"
Hatakeyama has finished processing more than 550 vehicles after the earthquake. He said he has several hundreds more to go.
"My retirement will come only when I finish (delivering the forms to all the owners)," he says. "That will be the first step toward reconstruction."
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