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Ota City's Interpeople Community Center (micsOta) - Becoming a City Where People from Many Cultures Cohabitate - - Working to Realize “Ota, an International City” -

Mr. Hiroyuki Matsuo, Section Chief, Multicultural Society Section, Ota City Office (L) and Mr. Akihiko Suzuki, Director of Legato Ota (R).

Mr. Hiroyuki Matsuo, Section Chief,
Multicultural Society Section, Ota City Office (L)
and Mr. Akihiko Suzuki, Director of Legato Ota (R).

In aiming to become "Ota, an International City," this month's Close Up introduces the city's "Interpeople Community Center (mics* Ota)". At mics Ota, which was established as a hub to promote a multicultural society, a wide range of tasks are undertaken to make Ota a comfortable place to live for foreign residents as well. In addition to multilingual over-the-counter consultations being offered, mics Ota conducts interpretation and translation services, organizes Japanese language classes, and holds various multicultural events, etc. On this occasion we spoke to Mr. Hiroyuki Matsuo, who, as well as being Section Chief, Multicultural Society Section, Ota City Office; is also the head of mics Ota. For this interview, he was accompanied by Mr. Akihiko Suzuki, the Director of "Legato Ota," a general incorporated association that operates mics Ota on the city's behalf.

*mics: Multilingual Information and Collaboration Square

Q.Please tell us what led to the establishment of mics Ota?

mics Ota is a five minute walk from JR Kamata Station, it being located adjacent to Ota City Office.  It is located within the Kamata Consumer Center.

mics Ota is a five minute walk from
JR Kamata Station, it being located adjacent
to Ota City Office. It is located within
the Kamata Consumer Center.

A.Mr. Matsuo: Due to Haneda being again designated as an international airport, etc., we have seen increasing numbers of foreign nationals registering in Ota City. This has been particularly the case in the Kamata area of the city. Thus, it became necessary to establish a hub facility for the promotion of a multicultural society. In starting out, we established the "Interpeople Community Center" within the Kamata Consumer Center in September of 2010. This was done in concert with the establishment of the "City Residents' Activity Support Facility Kamata" which supports residents' groups and NPOs, etc. The name, "Multilingual Information and Collaboration Square" (mics Ota), applies to both of these facilities. In terms of mics Ota's distinctiveness, it has a fulltime coordinator assigned for the promotion of a multicultural society. Furthermore, it offers fulltime over-the-counter consultation services to foreign residents, and it also engages in both the dispatch of interpreters and translation services.

Q.Roughly how many foreign nationals are resident in Ota City to begin with?

A.Mr. Matsuo: As of July 1st, 2013, there were some 18,332 foreign nationals registered as residents in Ota City. The entire population of Ota is 700,844 persons, thus some 2.62% of residents are foreign nationals. If you want to know by nationality breakdown, there are some 7,366 Chinese nationals, some 3,727 North or South Korean nationals, 2,115 Philippine nationals, and some 1,070 Nepalese nationals. Considering these figures, one feature of the foreign population in Ota is that people from the Asia Region are well represented.

Q.Could you tell us something of the over-the-counter consultation services offered to foreign nationals by mics Ota?

A.Mr. Matsuo: Reception hours for consultations are Mondays through Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and also on Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. In terms of the languages catered for, Chinese, Tagalog and English are always accommodated. If appointments are made, we are also able to offer consultations in another ten languages. These languages are Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Urdu, Nepalese, Hindi and Bengali.

On a blackboard at the entrance of mics Ota

On a blackboard at the entrance of mics Ota, "multilingual consultation,
translation and interpretation service" is written in three languages.

Q.And what sorts of topics are raised?

A.Mr. Suzuki: The number of consultations in Chinese and Tagalog is overwhelming. We have also seen an increase in demand for Nepalese and Vietnamese consultations. Basically, the majority of people coming in are women from the Asia Region. In terms of topics, we get a lot of consultations concerning divorce, the education of children, and learning Japanese. Other topics include pensions, taxation, and insurance, etc. Because the number of foreign nationals settling in Japan is increasing, sometimes people initially come to discuss getting married, the next time we see them is to discuss child-rearing issues. Thus, there are cases of the same person coming in repeatedly for consultations over a period of time.

Q.And what about your interpretation and translation services, in what ways are they used?

A.Mr. Matsuo: Concerning Ota City Office and city-run facilities, we dispatch interpreters to assist foreign residents free-of-charge. For example, if at a counter of city office they are confronted with a foreign resident unable to understand Japanese, after being contacted we will dispatch a counselor to assist. Furthermore, if a foreign resident turns up initially at mics Ota seeking consultation and the topic involves city office duties, a counselor will accompany them to city office and interpret for them. Also, concerning our translation services, we can translate documentation to be submitted to Ota City Office free-of-charge.

Q.For persons unable to read Japanese, having a service that offers the free translation of documentation is very valuable indeed

A.Mr. Suzuki: Yes, I agree. I feel that translation is something very important. For example, because people are unable to read Japanese, there are cases where even though tax payment notifications or insurance premium payment slips are received, they are nevertheless discarded. If nothing is done about such documentation, resulting penalties for late payment just grow and grow. Thus, if people receive documents they cannot read, I would hope their first course of action would be to come and visit mics Ota. In that there is such a service, I would like its existence more widely known.

At mics Ota, in addition to information being available in multiple languages, there are also pamphlets available on resident activities

At mics Ota, in addition to information being available in multiple languages,
there are also pamphlets available on resident activities

Q.And when people come for consultations, is there anything of which you are especially aware?

A.Mr. Suzuki: When a single person comes to us for a consultation, I feel that it has to be imagined that there are possibly 10 others who don't come in because they are unaware that this organization exists. For those unable to understand Japanese, going to city office to consult about something represents a very high hurdle to be overcome. Thus, as much as possible, I want to spread the word that "mics Ota is a place where people can take time and talk about matters in their native language."

Q.So how do you transmit information to foreign residents?

A.Mr. Matsuo: mics Ota publishes an information magazine called "Ota City Navigation" some 10 times a year. It includes notifications from Ota City, information on events, and reports on the activities of mics Ota, etc. The magazine is printed in five languages: Japanese (with furigana sub-text), English, Chinese, Korean and Tagalog. Furthermore, for foreign residents who have moved to Ota, city office distributes "A Guide to Life in Ota City." The publication is available in 3 languages; English, Chinese and Korean.

An edition of "Ota City Navigation" with an article about disaster-prevention steps that can be taken in the home (Chinese edition shown).

An edition of "Ota City Navigation" with an article about disaster-prevention steps that can be taken in the home (Chinese edition shown).

A.Mr. Suzuki: Concerning "A Guide to Life in Ota City," it was developed with the aim of being a guide that would allow people to live in Ota City even if they just had this one volume. Although difficult to decide what should be included due to information volume limitations, the guide nevertheless does go into some detail concerning lifestyle information such as how to make telephone calls, etc., and it also gives outlines of local resident groups, etc. Indeed, it seems that a rather large number of people visit city office with this guidebook in hand, and by our dispatching of interpreters on such occasions, my great hope is that we can play the role of creating information linkages between city office and foreign residents.

“A Guide to Life in Ota City” which is updated every three years.  The guide features easy-to-understand illustrations.

"A Guide to Life in Ota City" which is updated every three years.
The guide features easy-to-understand illustrations.

Q.And what about other activities targeted at foreign residents?

A.Mr. Matsuo: We have established beginner Japanese language classes, and an event called "Give a speech in Japanese" for foreign people attending Japanese language classes in Ota City. Additionally, we also conduct disaster-preparedness drills for foreign residents. In that many foreign residents have not undergone any form of disaster-preparedness training, by putting in place interpreters, we are pressing forward with a policy of trying to get foreign residents to participate in such drills.

A.Mr. Suzuki: Yes, the reality is that even if we plan to hold disaster-preparedness drills targeted solely at foreign residents, it's very difficult to get great numbers of participants. Thus, we are trialing a system whereby, through the dispatching of interpreters, foreign residents can also participate in the disaster-preparedness drills conducted by resident associations and neighborhood community associations, etc., throughout the city. We also had foreign residents participate in evacuation center training conducted at public junior high schools within the city in November of last year. In that a lot of foreign residents have not experienced earthquakes, in preparation for when something happens, we have to do something so that on a day-to-day basis, they are conscious of disaster-preparedness.

How big are the tremors of a seismic intensity 7 quake like the Great East Japan Earthquake? Creating an understanding of disaster-preparedness by actually experiencing the effect of an earthquake via an earthquake simulation vehicle.

How big are the tremors of a seismic intensity 7 quake
like the Great East Japan Earthquake?
Creating an understanding of disaster-preparedness by actually experiencing
the effect of an earthquake via an earthquake simulation vehicle.

Q.And what about multicultural exchange events, what kinds of event are held?

A.Mr. Matsuo: Ota City Multicultural Exchange Assembly events are held two or three times annually. In July of this year, there was a cultural exchange between a citizens group from Salem, Massachusetts, a city sister of Ota City; and a group of Ota residents. This exchange included a barbeque and nagashi somen (literally "flowing noodles") held at the Heiwajima camp grounds. At the next Multicultural Exchange Assembly event to be held in October, there are plans for a "German House" where people can meet German culture. Concerning this financial year, we are giving thought to themes by which a lot of Japanese residents can experience multiculturalism. In the past, we have held a "World Music Festival" through which people could enjoy music from around the world, we have also conducted "Korean Day" and "Philippine Day" whereby foreign residents of Ota City have been able to display something of their own culture. Furthermore, we also have tie-ups with volunteers involved in international exchange events such as "OTA FUREAI FESTA" and "Interpeople Festa" that are held in the city.

At the World Music Festival held by the Multicultural Exchange Assembly in June of 2012, there were performances and exchanges of music from around the world.

At the World Music Festival held by
the Multicultural Exchange Assembly in
June of 2012, there were performances and exchanges of music from around the world.

A photo of children enjoying tribal instruments at the “International Exchange Plaza” of the OTA FUREAI FESTA held in November each year.

A photo of children enjoying tribal instruments at the "International Exchange Plaza"
of the OTA FUREAI FESTA held
in November each year.

Q.In the future, in what ways will you promote a multicultural society?

A.Mr. Matsuo: We are thinking about putting efforts into multicultural activities that target Japanese residents. Ota City already has more than 18,000 foreign residents, and each of them carries a different culture with them. As somewhere to start, I feel it is necessary that our Japanese residents are made aware of this fact. Furthermore, in that both groups are the same in that they are residents of this city, I believe it is our job to act as a force that pushes them to work together in promoting the city's development. I feel such will contribute to the realization of a multicultural society and to achieving the aims of the slogan; "Ota, an International City."

Mr. Matsuo, Section Chief, Multicultural Society Section, Ota City Office; talking about being a "force that pushes Japanese and foreign residents to work together in promoting the city's development."

Mr. Matsuo, Section Chief, Multicultural Society Section, Ota City Office;
talking about being a "force that pushes Japanese and foreign residents
to work together in promoting the city's development."

Q.In order to realize a multicultural society, as individuals, what can we do?

A.Mr. Suzuki: Perhaps a place to start is simply exchanging greetings such as "hello" or "good morning" with those foreign residents who live in your neighborhood. It may sound simplistic, however, it is not something that can be done unless you are rather open with your feelings. Furthermore, in that people don't know others, there is something about human nature that makes them want to withdraw. It is all about taking that one step forward and talking to people you don't know, or speaking in an unfamiliar language. Multiculturalism is a very important theme, however, I am inclined to believe that the place to start is developing a rapport through asking simple questions such as "how are you?"

Mr. Suzuki of Legato Ota, who has many years' experience in supporting foreign residents; "It is all about developing relationships normally."

Mr. Suzuki of Legato Ota, who has many years' experience in supporting
foreign residents; "It is all about developing relationships normally."