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'Safety tips' app provides disaster, emergency info to foreign visitors

A screenshot of the "Safety tips" app home screen is seen on an iPad in Tokyo.

TOKYO -- Tourists can be especially vulnerable during a natural disaster, unable to speak the local language and unsure of what to do or where to go in an emergency. With that in mind, the Japan Tourism Agency has an iOS and Android app called "Safety tips" to help foreign visitors navigate emergency situations such as the June 18 quake in western Japan's Osaka Prefecture.

Downloadable from the Apple App Store and Google Play, "Safety tips" uses location services and push notifications to relay earthquake, tsunami, volcano and weather warnings to effected users. Available in Japanese, English, Korean, and both simplified and traditional Chinese, the app also provides evacuation information and multilingual communication cards to allow users to ask locals for essential information, such as "Is it safe here?" and "Where is the emergency shelter?"

However, the app is also designed to help foreign travelers overcome more commonplace problems while in Japan, with a list of emergency service numbers, a guide to local medical institutions in case of illness or injury, heatstroke warnings, and even a train route finder function.

As the Safety tip app website notes, "Japan is a country which is prone to natural disasters," and tourists need "accurate information in the event of a natural disaster." That need has been growing as more visitors are arriving on Japan's shores than ever before. In 2014, the year the app was launched, the country welcomed just over 13.4 million foreign visitors. That rose to about 28.7 million in 2017, and arrivals were increasing at their fastest pace ever in the first four months of this year, according to Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) statistics.

People planning a trip to Japan, or foreign nationals already here, can download the app using the QR code on the tourism agency's Safety tips website. Please note that location services and push notifications must be enabled for the app to get accurate information about the user's area.

(By Robert Sakai-Irvine, Staff Writer)

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