Card game helps foreign residents in Japan prepare for disaster

Natural disasters are an unfortunate part of life in Japan. People learn from a young age about what to do in an emergency, but many foreign residents don’t possess that potentially life-saving knowledge. A Japanese language class near Tokyo is trying to help.

"I was surprised by the torrential rain when I first moved here," says Sasaki Carmen, who is originally from Peru. She didn’t know the basics about disasters in Japan; including what to do after an earthquake.

Justin Schornack from the United States recalls his experiences in 2011 when a massive earthquake and tsunami struck. He was at work, and he didn’t know how to get home when public transport stopped. Schornack had many pop-up notices on his phone, but did not understand most of them since they were all Japanese.

"I think for most foreigners the biggest difficulty is not knowing what's happening and what they can do," Schornack says, adding that most of the useful information is put out in Japanese only, often using difficult expressions or words.

To address the issue, the Midori International Lounge, which offers Japanese language classes in Yokohama, has turned to a popular card game known as Karuta to teach people how to prepare for, and respond to, disasters.

The game has two types of cards. Half the pack contains a sentence, and the other half are illustrations. A designated reader reads a sentence aloud as the other players sit in front of the picture cards and try to be the first to pick up the one that depicts what they heard.

Midori International Lounge has a version that is all about disaster preparation. Their game utilizes flash cards, with phrases and illustrations presented together.

The cards depict scenarios that class participants have already experienced. These ones read: "When an earthquake occurs, a safe place is under a table" and "Tsunami may occur after an earthquake."

The cards help foreigners learn what to do in a disaster.

Volunteer Onohara Junko pulls out a card that reads: "When there is heavy rain, we shouldn't go near a river." Then she explains why, and asks the participants to keep that in mind.

Souliyamath Siphathay, originally from Laos, says Karuta is a fun way to learn Japanese. He also struggled during the 2011 disaster because he couldn’t ask for help or advice. "I had things I wanted to ask but didn’t know how to say. At the time, I wanted to know what would happen later and how to prepare for it," he recalls.

Onohara hopes the game helps foreign residents stay safe. "The bigger goal is for them to not only look after themselves, but also help protect others," she says.

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