In addition to all the disaster risks that Japanese face, residents of Japan from overseas have confronted their own set of problems in recent years. A research team from Keio University conducted a survey in various communities to grasp the reality and assess their needs. We present the findings in two installments. The first focuses on Chinese and Brazilian communities.
This edition of Bosai deals with disaster prevention issues faced by foreign residents of Japan. A 2019 research project by a Keio University team found that their problems can differ, depending on the country of origin and language they speak. Today’s episode focuses on Japan’s Chinese and Brazilian communities.
Keio University Professor Rajib Shaw is an expert on disaster risk reduction. His students spent several months conducting research on foreign residents’ disaster prevention awareness.
The number of technical interns and foreign students has been increasing in recent years. Shaw’s project looks at their needs and those of others from abroad who are living in Japan. He said, “The purpose of our research was to find out how much foreign residents understand about Japan’s very unique disaster risks and whether they are taking adequate safety measures.”
The project concentrated on speakers of four languages. Chinese is the most common language spoken by foreign residents in Japan. The second most common is Portuguese, used by Brazilians of Japanese descent. The other two were Vietnamese and Indonesian, the languages of many technical interns and international students.
The team found that the people who speak these languages share many problems. In response to the question, “What worries you most when a disaster strikes?” the most common answer was “language problems,” followed by “access to reliable information.”
Even so, members of each of these groups also had individual concerns. The Chinese-speaking community is a complex mosaic. It includes new residents as well as people who have been in Japan for generations. They came for various reasons, such as business, study, and technical training.
Using online questionnaires and interviews, the researchers found that Chinese residents get vast amounts of information about Japan from Chinese social media. One resident said, “People knowledgable about Japan were posting information in Chinese on a Chinese social media app when a big typhoon was approaching. Because they have many followers, their information likely reached a lot of people.”
In addition, those who understand Japanese even a little appeared to be checking Japanese apps as well as the websites of the Meteorological Agency and NHK. Professor Shaw said, though, more precise information is essential. “They need information about the area they live in, and they must know how to use that information. In an emergency, getting a lot of information is not important. It’s getting a small amount of accurate information that matters.”
The research team visited a park in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district. Every Sunday, people meet here to interact and chat in Japanese and Chinese. Duan Yuezhong has been organizing these get-togethers for more than a decade. He said disaster prevention accentuates the importance of Chinese and Japanese becoming friends and helping one another.
Duan explained that the Chinese community is large and consists of various groups of people who are connected through regional bonds, relatives, or work. He said, “It’s difficult to grasp, for instance, how many groups of Chinese people or people involved in Japan-China relations are in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward. When something happens, it’s necessary for leaders of the community to communicate with others. A system for training such leaders and facilitating communication is necessary.”
Professor Shaw also has stressed the importance of Japanese people finding effective ways of communicating with Chinese residents. “The most important thing,” he said, “is for the central and local governments and other organizations to set up official accounts on Chinese social media.”
The Japanese-Brazilian community faces its own set of challenges. It has grown over the past 30 years. Many of its members live in areas where manufacturing is strong. Local governments and NPOs typically provide multilingual support.
The research team visited the city of Joso, where residences flooded in 2015 when a river breached its banks during a typhoon. The team discovered through interviews that many Brazilians lacked interest in disaster prevention. One resident said, “In my area, there’s a school that’s designated to serve as a shelter when a disaster strikes, but I’ve never been there. I’m not sure how to put this, but I think it’s not that urgent.”
Another Brazilian resident said, “To tell the truth, my family is not really prepared for a disaster, although we find earthquakes terrifying.”
Professor Shaw observed a related condition: people who have knowledge about what to do concerning disaster prevention but don’t take action. He said the ability of local authorities to provide information in several languages is the first step in communicating with foreign residents. “It’s also important,” he said, “to take the next step, such as holding a joint drill or some sort of regional event. It’s necessary to come up with ideas that lead to action.”
In December, Joso organized a disaster prevention drill. A booth for foreigners was set up in the gym of the school where the drill took place. In the courtyard, Brazilian food was served as part of training on how to set up an emergency kitchen. It was a bean stew called “Feijoada.” An NPO that provides support for foreign residents of the area put on the demonstration with the help of local Brazilians.
Yoshihiro Yokota, the leader of the group, said cooperation is key. “It’s important to create a relationship in which we work together, rather than offer one-sided help. They can do translations we can’t handle, and they can do a far better job at spreading information.”
Joso is hoping that its international residents will contribute to overall disaster prevention efforts. Fujio Okano, who is in charge of the city’s multi-cultural activities, said this will help the Japanese citizens too. “Compared with the days I was a child, people aren’t as close to their neighbors, and there are fewer people in the community. This means we can no longer help each other with tasks like pulling weeds in public spaces, looking after children, and helping elderly people get around. Many foreign residents here are young. We are hoping that they will offer support, rather than become the ones in need of it.”
One reason Japan has been accepting additional workers from overseas is a shortage of labor. The local government sees diversity as a potential strength. For example, young foreigners can help elderly Japanese evacuate, and Japanese can offer information about disasters to foreigners.”
Professor Shaw’s research team found that foreigners who are friends with Japanese people tend to have higher awareness about disasters. Yet another reason for everyone to get to know the neighbors.