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Volunteer group translating Japanese picture books to help children of foreign residents

Hiroko Ishihara, left, leader of the group "Rainbow," is pictured in Tokyo's Meguro Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A volunteer group here has translated Japanese picture books for children into various languages and released them online for foreign residents in Japan in the hope that they will cherish their own native languages.

"We'd be glad if our efforts could help those who come from other countries value their own languages," says Hiroko Ishihara, 74, head of the group "Rainbow" based in Tokyo's Meguro Ward.

The group began its activities in 2006 after Ishihara was told by a Filipino woman who was living in Japan that she would never teach her native language to her children as the language was not used in Japan. At the time, the Filipino woman also quoted her Japanese husband as telling her not to speak to their children in any language he did not understand.

Ishihara recalls that she was shocked by the fact that the woman had written off her own native language. "It's sad that some foreign residents believe their mother tongues hinder their lives in Japan," she said.

Ishihara says a first-generation elderly Korean resident in Japan, whom she met decades ago in Osaka, reminded her of the importance of each individual's native language. The Korean woman had forgotten the Japanese she learned after coming to Japan, and was only able to speak Korean.

"You tend to forget a language you learn as an adult. I thought a foreign resident, if they forget Japanese, could become unable to talk with their own children who can speak only Japanese," she recalls.

With cooperation from students at a Japanese-language school where Ishihara works as a volunteer, Rainbow launched an activity to translate Japanese picture books for children into foreign languages and read them aloud for children of foreign residents. The group subsequently created videos of the picture books with subtitles and prerecorded people reading the books in foreign languages and began to release them on the YouTube video sharing site.

The group has translated 17 books, including "Urashima Taro" and "Kaguyahime," which are old Japanese stories for children, as well as Nagasaki-no Genbaku (atomic bombing of Nagasaki), into at least 25 languages including English, Chinese, Myanmarese, Sinhalese and Portuguese. The group also created about 150 videos.

Rainbow has recorded some of these videos on DVDs and provided them to organizations teaching Japanese to foreign residents and elementary schools in the capital.

The videos of Japanese picture books that Rainbow translated into various languages can be viewed by visiting

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(Japanese original by Kim Suyeong, City News Department)

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