Utsunomiya, Tochigi Pref. – Current and former students of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies have launched a website in 13 languages to help foreign nationals in Japan stay abreast of information on the coronavirus pandemic, including from the authorities.
A team of some 70 volunteers translates information released by the central government and local authorities in the Tokyo metropolitan region, as well as coronavirus news coverage by Japanese media.
The 13 languages are Japanese, English, simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Indonesian.
The project team members hope the website will help ease the anxiety of foreign residents and be a step toward building a more inclusive society.
“It is really stressful for them not to be able to get sufficient information vital to their lives and daily living,” said project team member Toru Ishii, 24, who majored in French at the university before graduating in March.
He recalled being asked for advice by a friend from overseas who faced student visa problems as the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease spread.
“I came to realize that governments only have limited manpower” to disseminate necessary information, Ishii said.
He and his friends launched the website on April 21 to deliver crucial information including basic hygiene tips to avoid infection and explanations of immigration issues, available financial assistance and support resources.
Since then, the team has received numerous inquiries from foreign residents on such issues as difficulties their children face in online classes provided by their schools and procedures to follow if they suspect they are infected with the virus.
The volunteer workers make sure to highlight cultural factors where necessary. For example, they explain the role of hanko seals that are needed for some business and administrative procedures in Japan.
One of the volunteer students joining the project had to cancel a plan to study abroad due to the pandemic, Ishii said.
The university in Tokyo, which offers about 30 language courses, accepts many international students. It also sends its Japanese students abroad for study.
“Just operating this website is not our goal. We’d like to help build a society which pays attention to foreigners especially in an emergency like this,” Ishii said, expressing his belief that the epidemic has shed light on the failure of Japanese society to provide enough support to minority residents.