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Japan nonprofit introduces evacuation shelter booklet with foreign nationals' insights

Momoko Tanaka, a second-year student at Ehime University and member of Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese Language School, shows off her group's booklet on evacuation shelter management for foreign nationals, in Matsuyama, on Nov. 18, 2022. (Mainichi/Yasutoshi Tsurumi)

MATSUYAMA -- A nonprofit group in this west Japan city has created a booklet on how to better support foreign residents at evacuation shelters in times of disasters, when they tend to find it hard to get information due to language barriers.

    The booklet includes pointers and notes from foreigners living in Japan, and is hoped to help local governments and other groups across Japan create or review their evacuation shelter management manuals. The nonprofit Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese Language School that's behind the booklet told the Mainichi Shimbun, "We hope this will be an opportunity for people to think about building a new type of 'bosai' (disaster prevention) with foreign residents in the community to prepare for major disasters like a Nankai Trough megaquake."

    The 19-page booklet titled "Thinking about Multicultural Coexistence in Evacuation Centers" covers various topics that foreigners are expected to have difficulties with, such as "lifestyle," "diet," "prayers" and "information," and introduces them in Japanese, English and other languages with illustrations and photos. About 10 international students in the city of Matsuyama from South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, the United States and Algeria contributed to the booklet.

    It lists things that foreign residents want others to be aware of when they need to stay at evacuation shelters, such as how some people can't bathe with others, some can't eat pork or drink alcohol and others need a quiet place for them to pray. The booklet also introduces measures that can be taken to help those who don't speak or read Japanese well obtain necessary information in times of disasters, including sending out essential information in English, and with pictures, and marking important locations in times of emergency.

    Momoko Tanaka, a second-year student at Ehime University who is a member of the nonprofit group and spearheaded a disaster education program with foreigners, commented, "Once a disaster strikes, people will all of the sudden need to start sharing a living space with those who have different cultural backgrounds. To create an 'evacuation shelter that leaves no one behind,' we hope we can provide food for thought on 'bosai' with foreign residents."

    Genta Nakano, assistant professor of disaster education at Kyoto University's Disaster Prevention Research Institute, who oversaw the group's program, said, "There are a surprising number of foreigners who have never experienced typhoons or earthquakes. I want Japanese people to imagine how some foreigners would be anxious about living in disaster-prone Japan while not understanding the language very well and have interest in 'bosai' accommodating to such people."

    The group is calling for local governments and support groups for foreign nationals living in Japan to use the booklet. Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese Language School can be contacted by phone at 050-5236-1663 for more information.

    (Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Matsuyama Bureau)

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