YOKOHAMA – A nonprofit organization in Kanagawa aims to ensure the prefecture’s foreign residents understand Japanese vaccination procedures by printing pamphlets in 10 languages.
The Kanagawa International Foundation has produced and distributed sets of 500 pamphlets in each language to various medical facilities in the prefecture, as well as making them available to download online.
It is now calling on local governments and medical centers to promote them more widely so foreign parents can better protect their children. Kanagawa is home to the fourth-largest foreign community in the nation.
The pamphlets are available in English, Chinese, Korean, Khmer, Lao, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Thai, Portuguese and Spanish. They describe available vaccines, the diseases they protect against and when they should be given, while explaining which ones are free.
The foundation says many foreign parents cite difficulty in getting hold of information on raising children in Japan, and there are concerns that some have no knowledge of the system or take the dangerous step of vaccinating their children while they are already sick.
“At 3 years of age, it’s time for the Japanese encephalitis vaccine,” Srum Sokkhim, a Cambodian resident of Kanagawa, told her 2-year-old daughter Asuka recently, showing her one of the pamphlets in Khmer.
The 35-year-old, who has another daughter, aged 5, said: “In Cambodia, they only give the BCG (tuberculosis) vaccine. I didn’t know there are so many different kinds.”
She took Japanese classes shortly after arriving in Japan at age 19 but dropped out because of a heavy workload at home. She found out about the pamphlets from a Cambodian friend who was involved in their translation.
“I was told to make a vaccination appointment by my pediatrician, so I went ahead and got (the children) vaccinated without knowing about the types of vaccines,” she recalled.
According to the foundation, there are six different vaccines in the free routine immunization schedule, all administered at different times, in addition to a range of voluntary vaccinations.
Some immigrant parents like Srum Sokkhim find it hard to understand vaccination information provided at hospitals, including the health record given to parents after a child’s birth, as it is written only in Japanese.
According to the Justice Ministry, Kanagawa Prefecture was home to 166,000 resident foreigners at the end of 2013. Although half of these residents have Chinese, South Korean or North Korean citizenship, there are also many from Southeast Asian countries, with the largest number from Cambodia and Laos.
The foundation’s head of multicultural assistance and cooperation, Ryoko Yamauchi, said everyone should be able to access critical information like vaccination schedules even if there are only a few speakers of their language in Japan.
“We can get through to most foreign parents and guardians using these 10 languages, so I hope this can be useful in promoting correct vaccinations,” Yamauchi said.