Lack of multi-language emergency alerts leaves foreigners vulnerable

By RENA PETERSON

TOKYO, Japan – October 23, 2019: 7pm (Nuku’alofa Times): Despite frequent and severe typhoons, Japan has not developed an effective system for communicating emergency information to non-Japanese speaking communities living in the country.

That included communication and messages sent out before Typhoon Hagibis, that left at least 80 dead earlier this month,

An estimated 2.5 million residents in Japan are non-Japanese, along with 31 million international citizens who travel to Japan annually.

But the lack of information and warnings in English and other languages, including emergency alerts sent by text message that are all in Japanese, potentially leaves millions of non-Japanese without information during times of crisis.

“One of the things that the typhoon, the disaster, exposed was just how unprepared the Japanese authorities are for handling foreigners when a disaster hits,” independent filmmaker Chris Broad said in last Wednesday’s edition of the “Abroad in Japan” podcast, criticizing both the Japanese government and broadcasters.

Mr Ikemoto

Kenta Ikemoto, of the Office of Disaster Mitigation at Japan’s Meteorological Agency (JMA), acknowledged the seriousness of the situation.

Although JMA is Japan’s primary provider of weather data, forecasts, and marine weather updates, Ikemoto said that “what JMA can do is limited.” But this issue “is something that the JMA has to consider and improve in the future,” he said.

While JMA’s website provides ongoing updates in 12 languages during emergencies, the agency has struggled to release English and multilingual weather alerts during disasters, Ikemoto told a group of visiting journalists Monday.

The journalists,who are from the Pacific, Caribbean and Japan, are participating in the Association for Promotion of International Cooperation (APIC) Japan Journalism Fellowship program.

JMA also cannot control the information distributed by broadcasters and cellphone companies, added Ikemoto.

During Typhoon Hagibus, which hit Japan October 11-12, NHK, Japan’s public broadcast network, released warning Tweets in Hiragana (considered “easy Japanese”) intended to make warnings accessible to foreigners.

This effort proved controversial as it simplified the language for foreigners, but still proved difficult for some to read and understand the emergency messages as they could not decipher the text.

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