michael werneburg

My employer opened a second IT office for disaster recovery readiness purposes. Our key drivers were to have an alternate location well away from Tokyo's challenges, be they earthquakes, tsunamis, or power failures. The latter is perhaps an inevitable result of the former two, because the Tokyo-area power grid is already at 100% of capacity on both hot and cold days.


These are the remarks I made at the Grand Opening, which was attended by local politicians and administrators, and which was televised and carried in the local print media.

I’d like to thank all our guests for being here to help us open the Fukuoka Center. I am glad to see our colleagues from the nearby Sales and Operations offices. With this third office, Fukuoka has become a second home for NN Life in Japan!

This office represents a revolution in NN’s reliability capability. We have already made significant reliability investments in technology and process improvement. But this office is an investment in people.

NN’s guiding values are clarity, commitment, and caring. We think this investment in Fukuoka reflects each of those values.

Finally, I would like to thank our partners in the government agencies of Fukuoka for making this city the right choice for us, and for your assistance in making this our new home.

choosing our DR site

Our principal problem is ensuring that business can continue in the case of a major natural or technological disaster in the Tokyo area. It's been only twelve years since a major earthquake and tsunami in the region, and since that time Tokyo's power supply has become less robust thanks to the closure of the Daiichi nuclear power plants. We were looking for something that was:

The first three rapidly narrowed our choices to five. These were Naha (in Okinawa), Fukuoka, Osaka, Nagoya, and Sapporo. Each is a large city, each had one or more of our company's offices, and each had a significant airport. All but Naha and Sapporo are served by Shinkansen. All are located on a different power grid than Tokyo. Our criteria set aside other centers that have a significant local effort by government to attract disaster recovery operations. This excluded smaller centers like Yamaguchi-ken.

Naha—a small city in distant Okinawa—is a not-uncommon cite for DR offices. But as global warming gets worse, Naha's situation will become more tenuous because it is frequently subject to typhoons. The city's depth in available technical personnel is not as strong as centers like Osaka and Nagoya and Fukuoka. Also, the electrical supply is somewhat limited due to reliance on imported fossil fuels. And of course, connecting would require a lengthy flight with no train option. We considered it a second-tier option.

Fukuoka is a mid-sized city and a regional hub. It is not only the capital of Kyushu but the largest city in western Japan and the fastest growing city in Japan. It is also the fastest-growing among young adults, and has a regional development board that is doing everything it can to make the city more attractive for international business. This includes developing English-language schools. It has a relatively small airport but that airport is practically in the city center—our existing offices were only fifteen minutes away, door-to-door. Its earthquake risk is negligible compared to the larger centers on our list, and the largest tsunami in the city's history was only 30 centimeters. With a significant office building effort in place and excellent shinkansen availability, we had a strong option.

Osaka—a city with half the population of my native Canada—was a strong option. The tech-giant public cloud operators have chosen Osaka either as their primary or secondary sites, and our public cloud is one of them. We had offices in the area as well. But it also has its own local geologic risks—and if anything worse tsunami risk than Tokyo. Osaka remained an obvious choice for us. It was only half as far away as Fukuoka and obviously had all of the local business development advantages of Tokyo.

Nagoya is a large center in Japan but not very removed from Tokyo's geology: the Nankai trough is off-shore at Aichi as it is in the Greater Tokyo (Kantō) area. It is an easy trip by rail or flight and home to 10 million people. In the end, sharing too much of Tokyo's earthquake profile put it in second tier.

Sapporo is an interesting choice. While it has no direct shinkansen connection to Tokyo, the air connection is only 90 minutes and viable rail options exist at about eleven hours. It's got the same population as Fukuoka, and shares Fukuoka's low risk of earthquake and tsunami. But what it gains in local geographic stability (it will be the least impacted by global warming) it loses in terms of local/regional development and the availability of the types of staff we wanted.


Everything we looked at told us that Fukuoka was likely going to be our choice. While some thirty sites across Japan—including Naha and Sapporo—had sales offices, outside of Tokyo only Fukuoka had an Operations office. What's more, the Fukuoka area is becoming something of a tech hub for Japan, with TSCM investing aggressively and renewable energy being a growth sector in the space. That said, office space is discounted against some of the larger cities, and while salaries are not notably lower it is a place that people want to move to. We have found candidates ready to relocate from other areas in western Japan—and have already relocated one staffer from Tokyo.

The city and regional governments seem to understand what is at stake as Japan's population ages. They're doing everything they can to attract young people. We feel that it adds up and look forward to developing our cite in that city.