Standard Chartered Trader Quits Forex to Help Fukushima Recover

Scenes From the Evacuation Zone: Five Years on in Fukushima

Scenes From the Evacuation Zone: Five Years on in Fukushima

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
  • Ex-banker speaks in interview on sidelines of G-7 meeting
  • ‘I felt that I wanted to do something useful for people’

Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake not only wrecked buildings and shook financial markets, it also changed the course of a veteran trader’s life.

Akiyuki Ikeda was watching currency moves in the 21st-floor dealing room in Standard Chartered’s Tokyo office when the magnitude 9 quake struck. "I thought the building would collapse, I thought it would be the end of my life," he said.

The quake, the towering tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster left such a deep impression on Ikeda that two years later he quit his 25-year career at the British bank to help with the recovery effort. He now works for the Fukushima prefectural government’s planning department, providing multi-lingual information on the region’s recovery.

"By making a living on the trading floor, the only person I was helping was myself," the 57-year-old former foreign exchange and derivatives trader said in an interview in the northern Japanese city of Sendai on the sidelines of a G-7 finance chiefs meeting. "I felt that I wanted to do something useful for people."

Sendai is the largest city in the Tohoku region, the area devastated by the disaster that killed nearly 16,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless. The government chose to hold the G-7 meeting in the area to highlight the recovery of the area, and to promote its industries and produce to visiting journalists and delegates.

Ikeda went several times as part of a Standard Chartered team to volunteer in the afflicted zone in the aftermath of the quake, although the bank wouldn’t allow its staff to enter areas near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant. But he felt this wasn’t enough, and applied to work for the local government when he heard it was looking for assistance.

He has to live apart from his wife and 21-year-old son, a university student, but takes the 90-minute journey to see them in Tokyo about once a month.

"It really dawned on me that the people of Fukushima had no place to go," he said. "Fukushima received support from across the world, and I wanted to show the world the real Fukushima, and help restore the pride of the people of Fukushima."

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