No foreign nationals listed among dead in western Japan rain disasters, survey of prefectures shows

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Fourteen prefectures hit by recent heavy rain and landslides in western Japan have not recorded any foreign nationals as having died or gone missing, a Japan Times phone survey of local governments has found.

Among the 14 prefectures, the three hardest-hit are Hiroshima, with 94 deaths; Okayama, with 59; and Ehime, with 26.

The other prefectures surveyed include Gifu, Shiga, Kyoto, Hyogo, Tottori, Yamaguchi, Kochi, Fukuoka, Saga, Miyazaki and Kagoshima.

According to the National Police Agency, the total death toll in western Japan exceeded 200 as of Friday, while a Kyodo News tally showed more than 60 remained missing, marking the nation’s worst rain disaster since 1982.

The prefectural governments of Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime did not have figures identifying how many non-Japanese residents had sought shelter at evacuation centers set up by local governments.

Local municipalities have not systematically counted the number of non-Japanese evacuees or reported such details to prefectural governments, which has made it difficult to understand how foreign residents have been affected by the disaster.

“No, we don’t have the number of foreign nationals at evacuation centers,” said Nobuo Kuwahara, an official at the crisis management division of the Hiroshima Prefectural Government on Friday afternoon.

Some local citizens’ groups supporting non-Japanese residents said they have seen few foreign nationals at evacuation shelters.

Such residents may have shied away due to the language barrier, said Kazuyoshi Meiki of the Akitakata International Communication Association of northern Hiroshima Prefecture.

“It may not be comfortable for them to stay there long because the people there are all Japanese and information is not provided in foreign languages,” he told The Japan Times by phone.

Local governments should have sent out more disaster-related information in foreign languages, because non-Japanese residents are disadvantaged when a crisis hits, he added.

According to the internal affairs ministry, 49,068 registered non-Japanese residents lived in Hiroshima Prefecture as of December last year, with 25,944 in Okayama and 11,745 in Ehime.

By visa status, people living in Japan through the government’s technical intern trainee program topped the list of foreign nationals in Hiroshima at 13,840 people, followed by those with permanent residency at 12,491.

In August 2014, a landslide following a downpour in one part of the city of Hiroshima killed 74 and destroyed 361 houses. At that time local authorities did not count the exact number of foreign nationals at evacuation centers, and the situation does not seem to have changed, said Katsuyuki Kuribayashi, a representative of the citizens’ group Asian, based in Hatsukaichi, in western Hiroshima Prefecture.

“At least, notices posted at evacuation centers should be written in multiple languages,” he told The Japan Times.

Finding little information from local governments, the Hiroshima International Center has sent out a questionnaire to about 160 international exchange groups in the disaster-hit areas, asking them to provide information to foreign residents there.

The group is still waiting for responses from some of the organizations, according to Ryohei Kumamoto, the head of the international exchange division of the center.

The center is a public organization designed to promote wide-ranging international exchange and cooperation, including consultation services for non-Japanese residents.

The Japan Times is hoping to speak with non-Japanese residents who were affected by the floods. Please click this link to fill out our form and tell us about your experience.