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University students launch 'easy Japanese' videos to help foreigners amid pandemic

A screenshot of a YouTube video created by Meiji University students that uses easy Japanese to introduce support centers and other useful information amid the novel coronavirus pandemic is shown here.

TOKYO -- Japanese university students in the capital have released videos that introduce consultation windows and support systems in "easy Japanese" in hopes of helping foreign residents who are facing difficulties amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The "easy Japanese" movement began as a means to let foreigners, who are not fluent enough in Japanese or English, know what to do in times of emergency by providing evacuation information during disasters among other guidance in friendly expressions that are easy to understand. Research on the matter began in the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe in western Japan and surrounding areas in 1995. Many foreigners also fell victim to the disaster, and there were people who could not obtain necessary information due to language barriers.

The videos were created by nine third-year students belonging to a seminar by social and cultural diversity professor Keizo Yamawaki at the School of Global Japanese Studies at Meiji University in Tokyo. Since 2018, this seminar group has continued creating videos and educating store owners and others at a shopping district in the capital's Nakano Ward where the university campus is located to make "easy Japanese" widely known.

A screenshot of a YouTube video that explains about subsidies to help pay for rent while showing responses to three basic questions is shown here.

As classes were shifted online this spring due to the spread of the new coronavirus, making it difficult for the students in the seminar to get together, the class carried out extensive online sessions in late April. During these sessions, the students discussed what they can do during this time, and apparently came up with the idea of creating videos that introduce consultation centers and break down the complicated systems of receiving support for foreigners who are facing difficulties in their lives due to a decrease in jobs among other issues amid the pandemic.

There are four types of videos that last around two to four minutes each. One video introduces multilingual call centers for those who lost their jobs or are concerned about their health due to the novel coronavirus. The video includes the message, "It's alright even if you're in trouble. There is always someone who will help you." Another video provided essential information on support loans that cover living expenses and subsidies to help pay rent for people who saw a drop in their income. The video is titled roughly, "Learning with the 3 'Do's," and explains the three questions of "What kind of system is it?" "Who can receive it?" and "How can I receive it?" by using phrases that begin with the Japanese hiragana phonetic character of "do". The students figured out ways to make the content easier to grasp, such as saying "A thing that lets you know how much money you earned," instead of "payslip."

According to seminar head Asako Horiuchi, 20, and deputy head Momoka Kikushima, 21, the students held prior discussions through the online meeting service Zoom from early May and researched about the support systems on the internet and through other means. The videos are made up of illustrations and words alongside phonetic characters to assist in reading made using PowerPoint. A narrative voice was also added after repeatedly testing out ways of speaking and speed. The students also had local government staff and others check the tutorial videos, which were completed in the beginning of June after several revisions.

Sungrok Jung, 24, a South Korean student who came to Japan two years ago, was in charge of the video explaining the system for the loans. Around the time the video was completed, the student dropped by an Indian restaurant in the capital's Nakano Ward. The Indian male owner of the restaurant had apparently been preparing to move and said, "I've run this place for a long time, but managing the business has become difficult and cannot be continued because of the novel coronavirus. I will close the restaurant and go back to my home country." Jung, who was shocked by the Indian owner's situation, commented, "There are high obstacles to obtaining information on support systems and the like for foreigners, and maybe the owner was not aware of such forms of support. I would be happy if many foreigners viewed the videos and made use of the information."

Students who participated in the creation of the videos utilizing "easy Japanese" can be seen in this image provided by Meiji University professor Keizo Yamawaki.

Kazumi Hamba, 43, administrative office head of Filipino Nagkaisa, a nonprofit organization supporting Filipinos living in the suburbs of the city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, commented, "Following the coronavirus pandemic, the move to disperse information by using 'easy Japanese' has been spreading among the national and local governments. I think the videos (made by the students) are easy to understand even for Japanese people, and will be helpful as those who provide support to foreigners can also use them to explain matters in a simplified way. I hope the range of the videos' use can be expanded within private bodies as well as administrative bodies. I felt a sense of hope in the fact that young people, who shoulder responsibility for an inclusive society, are making efforts while being considerate of the viewpoint of foreigners, as the number of foreign permanent residents will increase more and more."

Horiuchi showed enthusiasm while saying, "I hear opinions from foreigners that the Japanese used by staff members at information counters of the municipal ward office is hard to understand. We would also like to create videos for learning how to use easy Japanese that is targeted at Japanese people."

The videos can be watched on YouTube at:

(Japanese original by Hiromi Makino, Integrated Digital News Center)

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