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Japan manga artist's guide on mental care for children amid virus goes global

The Thai translation of Japanese manga artist Kimidori Inoue's illustrated guide on protecting children's mental health is shown in this image provided by JICA.

TOKYO -- A Japanese manga artist's illustrated guide on how to preserve children's mental health during the coronavirus pandemic has been translated into at least 17 languages after going viral on social media.

    Kimidori Inoue, 55, a manga artist living in the northeastern Japan city of Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, drew the illustrations based on her own experiences in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake as well as interviews in the disaster-hit areas. The guide has been translated to at least 17 languages, and has reached at least 23 countries. Inoue commented, "The coronavirus is something similar to a natural disaster. It has a large impact on children, so I would like for people to use it as a reference."

    Inoue remembers the time when power was restored in her house a few days after the earthquake disaster. Tsunami images emerged all of a sudden when she turned on the TV in the living room. The face of her daughter, who was a fifth-grader at the time, turned pale the moment she looked at the screen. Inoue recalls thinking, "This is not good," and took care not to leave the TV on from that point.

    When she visited coastal areas hit hard by tsunami for material for a manga series she was working on, the artist also met with children who suddenly confided in her about their worries right after they had been playing in high spirits. She also saw some children drawing violent pictures.

    "I felt through my experience that even if children look like they are cheerful, they carry around worries that cannot be verbalized. The reality of these difficult times due to the coronavirus overlaps with the situation of the disaster-hit areas after the earthquake," she said.

    As coronavirus infections spread throughout Japan, Inoue decided to record the reality of the crisis as a manga artist who had depicted on disaster-hit areas and developing countries, among other issues. She created illustrations including those showing correct methods of disinfection and tips for working from home, and published them on her blog and other media. In the illustrated guide for protecting children's mental health, she made six points based on what she learned from experts following the Great East Japan Earthquake, including "Don't keep the TV or YouTube news on all the time," and "Mind your reactions when watching the news."

    The illustration spread overseas after Kazuo Takeuchi, 43, the vice-chief representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)'s Thailand Office, found it on Inoue's Facebook page. Schools and parks had been closed since April in Thailand too, but children's mental care had not received much attention.

    Takeuchi suggested that Inoue have the illustration translated, as he felt it would be a unique form of support that Japan could provide as a country that had been through the 2011 disaster. The illustrated guide spread throughout Thailand immediately once the Thai language version was revealed on JICA's Facebook account in early June.

    This gave rise to more translated versions by JICA offices in other countries, which were posted respectively on social media. The government of Uganda is said to have begun discussing the possibility of using it in its TV commercials. Takeuchi commented, "Caring for children is an issue common to each country. We were able to convey the difficult problem in a kind manner because it's a manga."

    (Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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