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Wakayama University students create disaster prevention booklet in 'easy Japanese'

Students discuss the making of a disaster prevention handbook. (Photo courtesy of Wakayama University)

WAKAYAMA -- Japanese and international students at Wakayama University in west Japan have created a booklet on disaster prevention knowledge in "easy Japanese" for children with foreign roots, in the hope that people from countries that are not accustomed to earthquakes and typhoons will be able to live with peace of mind.

    The booklet provides information necessary in times of disaster in easy-to-understand words and illustrations for those who are not familiar with Japanese.

    The booklet, "disaster prevention handbook in easy Japanese for children," includes a list of actions to be taken in the event of an earthquake, typhoon, or fire, as well as a list of items to have prepared. The amount of information has been narrowed down to eight, A4-size pages for easy reading.

    In July 2020, the university launched a support project in response to the increasing number of foreign residents and children with foreign roots in Wakayama Prefecture. Two Japanese students and two international students who belong to an international exchange club became members of the project and created a booklet for possible use by children who have not experienced disaster drills in Japanese schools.

    With the easy Japanese method, difficult words are rephrased or supplemented with explanations. For example, the term "evacuation center" is written as "a place to escape," and "blackout" as "the electricity stops." One example of how the booklet expressed unfamiliar words in everyday life is an illustration of a fire alarm to tell the reader to "press the button when they notice a fire."

    In addition, the students considered the opinions of Jiang Shuoyu, 23, a Chinese exchange student, and others who said, "Foreign-originated words and katakana words are difficult to understand," and added phonetic kana not only to kanji but also to katakana, which is typically used in words of foreign origin.

    A page shows what to do in case of a fire. Unfamiliar words are accompanied by illustrations, and katakana words are added in phonetic kana. (Image courtesy of Wakayama University)

    Kana Miyata, 20, a third-year student in the Faculty of Tourism, said, "Until now, I thought it was easier (for international students) if I wrote in katakana. I learned a lot by realizing that some words and phrases that Japanese people consider easy are difficult for international students."

    Ayako Nagatomo, professor of Japanese language education and director of the International Relations Division at Wakayama University, who instructed the students, said, "I hope that they will learn why the number of children with foreign roots is increasing and become leaders to work for multicultural coexistence."

    The booklet was created for children, but it is also recommended for technical interns and foreign students who have just arrived in Japan.

    Jiang, who came to Japan in April 2019, recalled, "I had no experience with earthquakes or typhoons in China, and at first I didn't even know what '119' (the phone number to call the fire department) was."

    "My family told me before I came to Japan to be careful because there are many earthquakes here. I think this handbook will help foreign students to feel safe."

    The booklet was completed in February, and 1,500 copies were printed and distributed to kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools and other facilities through the Wakayama Municipal Government.

    For international students at Wakayama University, they have also created a version that lists evacuation sites on the campus. The booklet can also be downloaded free of charge from the website of the Kii Peninsula Institute of Regional Innovation of Wakayama University at https://www.wakayama-u.ac.jp/kii-plus/news/2021031900013/

    (Japanese original by Aya Kimura, Wakayama Bureau)

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    Easy Japanese

    It is a method of expressing information in a short and clear manner, using simple words and grammar, so that it can be easily understood by foreigners living in Japan. It was developed by Professor Emeritus Kazuyuki Sato of Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture and others after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake in order to convey disaster information to foreigners who are not familiar with Japanese or English.

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