TOKYO – A large majority of major Japanese cities are now prepared to provide multilingual information and aid to the growing number of foreign residents and tourists in the event of natural disasters, a Kyodo News survey found Thursday.
The survey, conducted late last year, found that 52 local governments — almost 80 percent — among Japan’s 47 prefectures as well as 20 ordinance-designated cities already have or plan to set up so-called disaster support centers providing services in multiple languages.
The central government has encouraged local authorities to establish such centers, given that during the deadly 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and recent natural disasters many of those without Japanese language skills were bereft of vital information.
The survey found that 23 local governments had multilingual disaster support functions, but many still failed to widely spread translations of information from their disaster response headquarters to foreign citizens.
Forty-eight of them said they have integrated multilingual facilities in their disaster prevention plans or agreed to set them up with the help of local organizations that promote international exchanges, while four respondents said they are prepared to establish such centers.
As for the centers’ functions, 65 of the respondents described them as “transmitting information in multiple languages,” followed by 60 respondents agreeing with “giving advice” and “translating government information.”
Using the centers to check up on shelters to assess their needs for aid was cited by 49 municipal governments.
The languages used to transmit information and provide assistance will differ by region depending on their foreign make-up. During the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, Ibaraki Prefecture provided information and advice in eight languages, including English, Chinese, Spanish and Thai.