The government will start subsidizing local governments from April for measures to improve disaster awareness and preparations for foreigners.
Specifically, it will provide them with a special local allocation tax to cover the costs of translating disaster information and conducting disaster drills that include foreigners. Amid a spate of disasters including typhoons hitting Japan in recent years, the government is trying to create an inclusive infrastructure for foreign visitors as well as workers who have come to Japan under the new resident status for holders of certain specified skills introduced in April last year.
According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, financial assistance will be given to projects undertaken by prefectural and municipal governments, such as translations of hazard maps, evacuation guidelines and websites that carry information about disaster prevention.
The ministry will also help local governments with expenses necessary to conduct evacuation drills for foreigners and train personnel to support them in an emergency. It will cover some expenses to set up and run disaster support centers that provide information in various languages to those who do not understand Japanese.
Although it has not been decided how much the central government will shoulder, it is expected to be around half of these expenses.
It is feared that those faced with a language barrier will not understand evacuation calls and may fail to find safe shelter. When Typhoon No. 19 struck in October last year, many foreigners said they did not understand what was said on an emergency municipal radio communication system, or they could not read leaflets on evacuation information sent from local governments.
Disaster prevention measures for foreigners vary from region to region.
According to questionnaires sent by The Yomiuri Shimbun to heads of local governments across the nation in January last year, 32% of 1,532 municipalities responded said their task is to come up with countermeasures predicting disasters. On the other hand, only 16% have actually taken measures for such events.
The ministry is trying to inform local governments of its extensive financial assistance and help them implement preparations for disaster prevention.
Some local governments have already taken measures. The Gunma prefectural government conducts disaster drills for foreigners once a year. During Typhoon No. 19, the local government provided evacuation information in five languages, including English and Chinese, on its website.
Since last year, the Aichi prefectural government has been holding workshops for municipal officials to teach them how to help foreigners in times of disaster.