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West Japan city gives multilingual support to 6,000 foreign residents to boost COVID shots

A woman fills in a medical questionnaire with support from the interpreting staff at the Toyonaka International Center, in the city of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Aug. 22, 2021. Staff members who speak Nepali and Indonesian also work at the site. (Mainichi/Nanami Hidaka)

TOYONAKA, Osaka -- The western Japan city of Toyonaka is providing support in 10 languages to help some 6,000 foreign residents in the municipality get vaccinated against COVID-19.

    In addition to mailing information in plain Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indonesian, Spanish, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Nepali to all foreign citizens along with vaccination vouchers, it has placed interpreters at a designated inoculation venue. The measure by the Osaka Prefecture city, which has about 400,000 residents, is seen as advanced compared with other municipalities in Japan.

    A vaccination venue for foreign residents has been set up at the Toyonaka International Center, a municipal facility to support foreign residents. Commenting on the support measures, a city representative said, "It's important for everyone to be convinced and to be able to get vaccinated with peace of mind."

    On a Sunday in late August, interpreters wearing tags such as "Thai" and "Filipino" were seen helping residents fill in medical questionnaires at the center, located in front of Hankyu Toyonaka Station. One foreign resident who received support in Korean, said with a relieved expression, "It was difficult to make an appointment for an individual vaccination and I was wondering what to do." About 80 people, including elderly residents in the area, were inoculated at the center that day.

    A woman is vaccinated against the coronavirus at the Toyonaka International Center, in the city of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Aug. 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Nanami Hidaka)

    In principle, the city's residents make reservations through their family doctors or the city's website and receive their vaccinations individually at medical institutions. However, this method presents a hurdle for those who are not able to speak Japanese, as they need to relay information on their health, such as whether or not they have underlying medical conditions, are taking medication, or have had severe reactions to vaccinations in the past.

    The Toyonaka Municipal Government and the Association for Toyonaka Multicultural Symbiosis, which serves as a base for international exchange, compiled the support measures following discussions that commenced in December 2020.

    In late June, basic information on vaccines and how to make reservations was mailed to all foreign citizens in the 10 languages. The international center was added as a vaccination venue and reservations have been accepted online in all 10 languages. Language support staff were assigned after confirming whether people needed interpreters. Inoculations started in early July.

    The local government and the association have cooperated in international exchange projects in the past, and they have the know-how to disseminate information in multiple languages and secure staff, so it's likely that this enabled them to respond smoothly. A person in charge at the city's department for human rights policy pointed out, "I don't think the health center has the capacity to handle everything. Departments supporting foreigners need to act."

    Yayoi Yamamoto, the director of human rights and cultural policy at the city government, commented, "For a city like Toyonaka where foreigners live in urban areas, this may be a model case. Meanwhile, Takashi Yamanoue, the secretary general of the association, said, "We want to hear about worries and troubles and provide the necessary support."

    (Japanese original by Nanami Hidaka, Osaka Regional News Department)

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