• Kyodo

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Medical interpreters are helping a popular ski resort in Hokkaido deal with the growing number of foreign guests there.

To overcome the language barrier, Kutchan-Kosei General Hospital in the town of Kutchan, near the Niseko resort, employs a five-member team of medical interpreters. At times, the team deals with nearly 30 patients a day, most of whom have sustained fractures or external injuries while skiing or snowboarding.

Izumi Miyama, 45, is a Sapporo native who studied in Canada and began working at the hospital in December 2010. If current trends continue, demand for Miyama and her fellow interpreters is likely to grow. The number of foreign visitors staying in Kutchan has surged fivefold in the past decade, with around 116,000 staying in fiscal 2016.

During that winter, foreign patients at the hospital totaled 1,613, topped by Australians.

The resort is increasingly popular with Asian visitors, and in late February Miyama handled a 26-year-old woman from Hong Kong who suffered a knee injury while snowboarding.

Seeing the woman was anxious to be treated immediately, Miyama helped her calm down and reassured her that she would receive treatment as soon as possible.

Miyama says it is imperative not to make foreign visitors even more apprehensive than they already may be after getting injured in an unfamiliar environment. “It is important for us to first listen to what they want to say,” she said.

The seasoned medical interpreter likens her role to that of being a spokeswoman for her country. The way she handles foreign patients, she says, can help influence their impression of Japan.

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