Every month, our "Close UP" series introduces a selected organization in Tokyo who aims to promote international exchange and the support of foreign residents in their community. For this month, we feature Machida International Center in Machida City, which is operated by the Machida Cultural and International Exchange Foundation. Having developed as Tokyo's "bed town" suburb, the City of Machida is committed to creating an ideal environment for all families in the community to raise children. To support foreign families, the city has published a guidebook on parenting information in several foreign languages. Takehiko Ogawa from the Machida International Center and Kazuko Uchida from Machida City Hall (Department of Child Welfare) tell us about the city's efforts to support foreign families and their children.
Mr. Takehiko Ogawa (Left)
Ms. Kazuko Uchida (Right)
Of the total of about 410,000 residents in the city, approximately 5,000 people are foreign nationalities. We have a large population of exchange students as well since there are many colleges and universities in and around the city. About 70 percent of the city's officially registered foreign population is Chinese, Korean, and Filipinos. However, they do not form their own communities but rather live scattered throughout the city. Some foreign residents therefore may find it difficult to meet someone in their neighborhood whom they can talk to or ask for help. It is one of our main goals to reach out and help those isolated people. Since the city shares borders with the Kanagawa Prefecture, we get visitors and inquiries from nearby cities of Kanagawa such as Sagamihara, Yamato, Yokohama, and Kawasaki. To support these people, we have also collected information for foreign residents of these neighboring cities as well. We always ask our visitors which city they live in before answering their questions, since local rules and regulations can be quite different by each community--even basic rules such as how to dispose of trash.
In 2006, the city worked together with the Machida International Center and published a guidebook in English that contained local information about available child allowances, the health examination system for children, hoikuen (preschool/nursery school) and yochien (kindergarten), and other important topics related to childrearing. We distribute copies of the guidebook at the city hall's foreign resident and healthcare sections, hoikuen, and other locations throughout the city. We now have Chinese and Korean editions as well. This spring, we also printed an English brochure about ichiji hoiku, a temporary childcare service at local hoikuen. The service is available to any family who needs temporary childcare due to family member's health problems or some important ceremonial occasions such as weddings and funerals. Mothers who need a break from caring for children are also welcome to use the service. We hope that more foreign families become aware of this useful service and take advantage of it.
The city's parenting guidebook is available in English, Chinese, and Korean.

The center keeps an extensive collection of information materials from other neighboring cities. Information about medical services, sightseeing, and many other topics are available and can be photocopied.
The center offers Japanese language classes at different skill levels with help from local volunteer members. For two of the eight classes we currently offer weekly, we provide childcare service for participants with young children from 18 months of age up to preschoolers. For mothers with babies between 4 to 18 months of age, the center holds oyako kyoshitsu, or family class, where participants can bring their babies to the class to learn Japanese and enjoy chatting with other foreign parents. The primary goal of this class is to create an opportunity to help those mothers get out of the house. Until their children become old enough to go to hoikuen or yochien, these mothers do not always find a place to go in the community, therefore isolating themselves from outside of the house. We hope the class also gives them a chance to make friends with other mothers.
Panel displays are created by volunteer members to introduce four seasons and traditional events in Japan.
The Chinese population is quite large in Machida City. There are also many multinational families whose parents are a couple of Japanese and Chinese. We started children's Chinese classes last year in response to the request of local Chinese parents who want to teach their children their cultural roots and traditions. Those children who are born and grow up in Japan do not have many chances to learn and experience languages and cultures of their home country. It will be sad, for example, if those children eventually go back to China, have their own family, and do not know traditional songs and stories that other Chinese parents would share with their children. As the number of long-term foreign residents is on the rise, we will find similar issues and concerns in the future. Our goal is to be aware of these issues and provide necessary support so that these foreign families can enjoy their lives in Machida and Japan.

Children's Chinese classes are held once a week to provide fun and educational language programs for elementary school children. A volunteer member reads a kamishibai ("paper-theater") story to the children. Important manners and customs are introduced in easy Chinese.
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