National

Japan's top mobile carriers launch multilingual disaster information service for tourists

Kyodo

A service that sends tourists disaster-relief information via mobile phone has been launched by the nation’s top wireless carriers to help during disasters like earthquakes and typhoons.

The mobile phone operators — NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. — began the short messaging service on Wednesday and will send information such as phone numbers for the Japan National Tourism Organization’s visitor hotline and the web address for NHK World-Japan, the public broadcaster’s multilingual service, when disaster strikes.

The messages will be in English, Korean and simplified or traditional Chinese, according to the user’s domestic wireless carrier. Travelers will have to use a roaming service provided by one of the three companies to receive them.

The new service was launched at a time when the estimated number of visitors to Japan plunged to just 1,700 in May, setting an all-time low for the second consecutive month, due to travel restrictions to stop the novel coronavirus.

The companies said they began preparing the multilingual disaster service after many visitors were unable to get emergency information after the magnitude 6.7 quake in Hokkaido in September 2018.

Hokkaido is one of the most popular destinations, and many visitors had difficulty obtaining information on how to evacuate or get home when the quake triggered Japan’s first prefecture-wide blackout.

“Foreign travelers would find it hard to get information about shelters and food procurement due to language barriers when disasters cause a large-scale power outage or disrupt public transportation,” the mobile phone carriers said in a joint statement.

Tourism is expected to rebound gradually in the coming months as Japan has been in talks with Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand on mutually easing travel restrictions and is considering beginning similar negotiations with Taiwan and Brunei.

Coronavirus banner