Non-Japanese speakers turned to employers for help in aftermath of west Japan flooding disaster

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

With basic necessities interrupted, homes evacuated and infrastructure badly in need of repair, surviving a disaster is challenging enough, but for non-Japanese speakers there is the added worry of getting important information in a language they can understand.

Following the torrential downpour that hit western Japan two weeks ago, some local governments have posted multilingual information on their websites to help disaster victims, but in some cases the translations are patchy at best.

As a result, at least one company stepped in to fill the gap, helping staff without Japanese-language skills get the assistance they need. One foreign resident, whose home was fortunately unscathed by landslides but still had to go for about a week without running water, received such support from his employer.

Thomas White, 27, a British resident of Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture, woke up to a municipal official banging on his door at 2 a.m. July 7 warning him of a potential landslide and asking him to evacuate.

“My Japanese isn’t brilliant but we managed to communicate between us. … (The city official) spoke in Japanese and he gestured as well and I kind of gathered what he meant,” explained White, an English teacher.

White, along with a friend who works for the same company and lives in the same apartment block, evacuated to a nearby school until the following afternoon, when the rain let up and evacuees began to make their way home.

Recalling the week he spent without water, White said he “didn’t even think about” the amount of water he would need not just to drink but to cook, bathe and flush the toilet “until it happened.”

In the circumstances, White’s employer was his main source of information until the water supply resumed.

“My company stayed in contact with us and we told them that we were missing water … so they found places where we could shower for free within the city, like the fire station, which had opened up their showers (to disaster victims),” as well as “a large sports gymnasium … where we could pick up bottled water and food,” White said.

“The company sent us emails, phoned us up making sure we were OK and that we knew where to get access to drinking water, showers … things like that,” he added. “I got so much support and I’m very grateful for it.”