TSU, MIE PREF. – The Mie Prefectural Government has been operating Japan’s first 24-hour multilingual telephone interpretation service for public counseling centers dealing with child care issues since last year, allowing for more inquiries to be handled more efficiently.
The service allows for response times that are 20 times faster than when using dispatched interpreters, greatly reducing the centers’ labor needs. As a result, the number of cases handled by such centers almost doubled to 147 last fiscal year from 77 in fiscal 2015.
The service, provided by Tokyo-based interpreting company Bricks Corp. and introduced in November 2018, allows interpreters to listen to calls in real-time.
Currently, interpretation services are offered in six languages: English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese and Filipino. With prior notice, the firm can provide interpretation for 240 languages in total.
According to the internal affairs ministry, foreign residents account for 2.78 percent of Mie’s total population, the fourth-largest proportion among all 47 prefectures.
Since April, the system has also been used by consultation centers for victims of domestic violence and public welfare offices in the same prefecture.
Before the launch of the 24-hour phone interpretation service, child consultation centers were dependent on interpreters dispatched from the Mie International Exchange Foundation, which provides various services for non-Japanese residents in the prefecture.
The foundation’s service had required that the date and other matters were prearranged by the center and interpreter, which usually took three weeks for regular cases and at least two weeks for urgent cases.
Under the previous system, family members or friends of people contacting child consultation centers would often help with interpretation to speed up the process, but such arrangements sometimes led to miscommunication due to the lack of objectivity of the parties involved.
The new system has also allowed consultation centers to be more flexible in their assistance, such as by shifting consultation hours from day to night hours. Dispatched interpreters are available only during the day in many cases.
“This system helps us provide assistance with quick and accurate interpretation,” said Michihiro Morishita, a prefectural government official who works with six child consultation centers in the prefecture. She said the system is functioning “better than we had expected.”