Outline (1)

Our aspirations to provide a multilanguage service

Our volunteer translation service was born in the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Even today, 16 years after the disaster, language barriers continue to exist for many multi-ethnic residents.

photoIn 2009, while a new strain of influenza started to spread throughout the World, the first case of the new strain was confirmed in Japan in May of that year. As a result, an outbreak emergency message was released to the surrounding area where the victim had lived. Prefectural governments were the quickest to make efforts to try to translate this information into languages other than Japanese and our translating service FACIL helped collaborate with these efforts.

Compared to the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake 15 years ago, we can say that our multilingual service has improved greatly. Because of our efforts, it’s not uncommon to have a range of community information such as school enrolment procedures, supplementary income payment notifications and waste disposal rules translated into numerous languages.

Nevertheless, there continues to be cases where language barriers hinder communication between foreign residents and the community, particularly in situations like city/town administration offices, medical institutions and school environments.

Two Channels for Communication: ‘The need for Japanese language acquisition’ and ‘the right to receive information in one’s native language.’

photoLiving in Japanese society can feel like a burden especially for immigrants who are still not proficient in Japanese language. Therefore it is necessary to acquire a certain level of Japanese language proficiency to help people live and communicate in Japanese society more comfortably.

However, as important learning the host country’s language is for communication, it is also just as important to maintain the language that immigrants grew up using in their home countries. This is because their native language plays an important role in providing the best means to which foreign residents can best express themselves. By encouraging them to speak in their mother tongue we can help foster a sense of security and alleviate stress.

Learning a language outside of one’s own native language takes a considerable amount of time for anyone. Many immigrants come to Japan for various reasons and with differing purposes therefore it is unreasonable to expect that all immigrants consciously come to Japan only after acquiring proficient Japanese language ability. So while these immigrants are in the process of acquiring Japanese language skills in Japan, we feel it is our obligation to help provide important information in their native language so that they can live less stressful lives while adjusting to their new home in Japanese society.

In this globalized society where many people from various backgrounds migrate across this earth, we should acknowledge that it is our obligation and a right for all to have the chance to acquire the languages used within our society and to ensure that everyone can live in a humane way no matter which environment they should find themselves in. Also, it is important for us to realize the right of all to have access to information and to express oneself in one’s native language. Both of these rights should also be treated with equal importance. A society which respects these two channels of communication can be called a true democratic and vibrant society. Our aim is to help create a community in which all citizens can live with ease.

Looking beyond bilateral communication: Activities in a disaster-affected region.

photoSo, why is a society that respects the two channels of communication a vibrant society? We hope to answer this question by sharing our experiences with you.

If we stop to think about just how difficult it was for those who could understand Japanese to get a hold of information in the aftermath of the great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake, then just imagine how much more difficult it would have been for those ethnic minority residents who couldn’t understand Japanese.

In Nagata ward of Kobe, there lives a large community of Vietnamese people who arrived in Japan as refugees during the 1980s. In the chaos that emerged in the aftermath of the 1995 earthquake, many of these people couldn’t understand difficult Japanese words like “emergency shelter”. However, the earthquake brought many victims within the Nagata community together and they united to assist those with injuries to seek medical treatment and raise the spirits of victims by holding barbeques in the emergency shelters.

During the earthquake, life or death was often determined by whether people were familiar with their neighbors. For example, many people within the community died because the roofs of their house or garages had collapsed on them. However, rather than checking to see if their neighbors were alright, people just didn’t give a second thought to check on their neighbors. Even though people were living side by side, they were essentially living in isolation. This was particularly so for foreign residents and the elderly.

If however, your neighbor was Chinese and you made efforts to try and talk with them regularly on a friendly basis, then you would have built a relationship where both of you would check up on and help each other.

Therefore, information is not just about conveying facts, it is about communication. Communication is a bilateral relationship where new information and ideas are exchanged between two parties.

For the majority of Japanese people, there is a perception that the Japanese way of living is the most commonsensical way of doing things. However, we at FACIL believe that people from different cultural backgrounds have a lot of positive things to contribute to our society.

We feel that if communication between residents of ethnic minority backgrounds and local Japanese people were improved this would encourage Japanese who have only ever know about their home country to be able to understand society from the perspectives of immigrant residents. By improving such communication, we hope that people will be able to notice things about their society that they hadn’t noticed before. As a result, they might be able to create a better environment for themselves and have a new found pride in Japan.

What we hope to realize through our multilanguage activities.

There are many residents of foreign backgrounds living in the community where our activities are based.

photoBefore the earthquake, if you were to say ‘local summer festival’, this would have meant traditional Japanese dancing and food stalls selling traditional Japanese food like takoyaki and fried soba noodles. However, because many within the community, local and foreign residents alike, shared the same experiences of living side-by-side in emergency shelters during the earthquake, many now feel a strong sense of community. This lead to the raising of voices within the community to include food stalls that sell Vietnamese spring rolls, Nepalese curry, Korean pancakes and Peruvian barbeque chicken during the local summer festivals. Now, it is seen by the general public as being only natural to stand and wait in line for food stalls selling international cuisine.

At the end of our efforts at improving communication between each individual regardless of their background awaits a community which is vibrant and diverse. The road towards this kind of community is not easy and there may be various bumps along the way. However, 16 years have passed since the earthquake and our resolve to achieve this kind of lively community has only grown stronger. This is what Multilanguage Center FACIL aims to achieve through our various activities.