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Bosai Girl -Making Disaster Preparedness More Fashionable and Accessible for Younger Generations-

Bosai Girl Founder and Representative Director
Misaki Tanaka

September’s Close Up introduces Bosai Girl (literally “Disaster Preparedness Girl”), a general incorporated association. With a membership that focuses on women in their 20s and 30s, as an NPO, the group’s ongoing activities are designed to make the issue of disaster preparedness more easily understood and accessible to a wider audience. Behind this concept there exists a desire to heighten the disaster preparedness consciousness of younger generations. Through its development of more fashionable disaster preparedness goods, and its planning of next-generation evacuation drills, etc., everything the group does is aimed to overturn the traditional image attached to disaster preparedness. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak to Bosai Girl Founder and Representative Director Misaki Tanaka, with whom we discussed both how the group was founded and also about the projects it is currently undertaking.

Q. Please tell us some of the background prior to Bosai Girl commencing its operations and also about your aims in establishing the group.

A.  I graduated from university and joined the workforce immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March, 2011. Furthermore, my employer was an IT-related advertising agency where I was responsible for managing social games. However, I began to feel more strongly that there were “people crying out for assistance that required my help,” and this sentiment made me quit my job just over a year later. I next started working for a non-profit organization involved in relief efforts in Fukushima Prefecture. Moreover, when thus engaged, I was told that there existed threats from natural disasters other than just earthquakes and tsunami. I also learned that, within the next 30 years with a probability of some 70%, devastating earthquakes could directly strike Tokyo and also kick off in the Nankai Trough off Japan’s Pacific Coast. Thus, I realized that where I currently reside could well become the next disaster zone. However, despite there being numerous people within this society who possess disaster preparedness knowledge, I saw that such important knowledge wasn’t being conveyed to those who possessed only a limited consciousness of such issues. Accordingly, in that I wanted to be a bridge between such segments of society, Bosai Girl came to life in 2013. Additionally, in that many people have been involved in the Tohoku recovery efforts, I decided that the group would engage in the field of “Disaster Preparedness.”

Q. Please tell me in detail about your activities.

Bosai Town page

Developed as an accompaniment to NTT’s Town Page, the highly-accessible “Disaster Preparedness Town Page” is an easily-understood brochure whose distribution has commenced.

A. In the two years since we commenced our activities, we have made a conscious decision to continuously work on programs designed to make disaster preparedness more fashionable and accessible. We have held “Bosai Matchmaking” occasions that combine disaster preparedness and local matchmaking events; we have also conducted “Disaster Preparedness Survival Games” that combine disaster preparedness with elements of the survival game genre. Recently, we have attempted to narrow down the scope of our projects into three major categories. The first involves coordination with government, through which we have developed disaster preparedness communities for the benefit of young women like ourselves. The second involves developing programs that are both realistic and enjoyable so as to improve traditional evacuation drills; a genre of activity that has suffered from a negative image. Such programs can be incorporated into evacuation drills conducted by companies or even held as individual events. The third involves realizing the participation of a wide variety of different players in addition to the disaster preparedness participation of industry, bureaucracy, academia and NPOs. This category involves developing cooperative programs so that everybody will make a genuine effort to change society. As much as possible, what I want is to be able to achieve what the disaster preparedness industry hasn’t achieved until now.

Q. And in March this year, you transformed from being a voluntary organization to being a general incorporated association under law…

A. That is correct. By being incorporated, in addition to it being easier to coordinate our activities with government and business, our membership now shoulders a stronger sense of responsibility. Personally, my situation has also been transformed. I used to dream merely that it would be “great if disaster preparedness spread further within society.” Now, I have become the organization’s face who also has to think about how we should be running ourselves. Moreover, I now also receive more lecture requests. Initially, in that the group’s name is “Bosai Girl,” perhaps some people viewed us as lightweight, however; perhaps what we were aiming for was to purposely create a perceptual gap between our name and the volume of knowledge and information we actually possessed (laughing). However, when talking to participants in our projects now, sooner or later they realize that “what they have been doing for disaster preparedness until now isn’t good enough.”

©Bosai Girl

On the 4th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Bosai Girl transformed from
being a voluntary organization to being a general incorporated association under law.
This photo is from the party that commemorated this event.
©Bosai Girl

Q. Many of your members are female. It seems that your activities make use of skills in which women are uniquely strong.

A. Although not the case that our membership is limited strictly to women, it is nevertheless important that we retain a feminine outlook. Until now, disaster-preparedness as a topic has been very masculine in nature. For example, even for disaster preparedness goods, the only criterion pursued until now has been one of functionality. Suggestions and proposals have also been couched in very direct terms with undercurrents of masculinity. In addition to shying away from this approach and instead conveying messages and discussing disaster preparedness in terms that are both softer and more easily understood; for disaster preparedness goods, we have not pursued their functionality solely, but also their visual appeal (and their sense of cuteness). I believe that such sentiment comes from a feminine perspective. I also feel that generating ideas which offer change rather than being tied to tradition represents a strength possessed by Bosai Girl.

©Bosai Girl ©Bosai Girl

Bosai Girl produces disaster preparedness goods that are more than just functionality,
they offer designs that people want to carry with them.
©Bosai Girl

Q. You recruit new members every six months, in doing so, what sort of people are you looking for?

©Bosai Girl

©Bosai Girl

A. With disaster preparedness, what is important is the desire to keep being involved. Thus, when recruiting new members, we place importance on both an individual’s desire to keep participating and their general level of motivation. It is alright if new members know nothing about disaster preparedness when they start with us. It is quite alright for an individual to increase their consciousness of disaster preparedness once they join us as well as growing their own wealth of knowledge. Currently, approximately 80 people both domestically and overseas have had experience as members. Moreover, it is not just the case that our members have been individuals who are solely conscious of disaster preparedness issues, rather some have also possessed strong web skills, others have been knowledgeable in fundraising issues and still others have known a lot about first aid. Each member has their own strengths. They are all rather cool women who wish to make a social contribution with the skills they possess.

Q. Can you tell me about the next-generation evacuation drills that Bosai Girl has developed?

©Bosai Girl

©Bosai Girl

A. Up until now, evacuation drills have been comprised of four elements that come together to make a set. You have the place of the disaster, the place of evacuation, the people who give orders during evacuation by ringing alarms, etc., and the route of evacuation. If only this sort of evacuation training is repeated ad nauseam, what occurs is that people become unable to respond to situations that don’t conform to such blueprints. If the location that is occupied when a disaster strikes is not a school or a company, then people don’t know to where they are supposed to evacuate, and if there is nobody around barking out evacuation orders, they might arbitrarily decide that there is “no apparent danger” to them. Furthermore, people can become panicked when they realize that the evacuation route they have always practiced using has become impassable. In contrast to this state of affairs, the next-generation evacuation drills that we have developed represent a program that allows people to develop the skills to decide to “evacuate to a certain type of location” at any time a disaster occurs. More specifically, “once the starting point has been decided, evacuation amounts to the individual relocating to a safe location by a safe route in the time allowed.” This is something that individuals can achieve both by themselves and with their colleagues.

Q. I believe you utilize some form of social game in your next-generation evacuation drills.

A. That is correct. We use an online game called “INGRESS” that was developed for the smartphone platform by a Google startup called Niantic Labs. INGRESS describes itself as a factional game and it utilizes Google Maps while drawing on positioning data. If participants in our next-generation evacuation drills are able to search out the evacuation centers and stranded commuter support stations that are displayed within INGRESS, they can then return to the start point of the drill. We split participants into two teams, and those who return to the starting point within the allotted time having achieved their tasks are awarded points. The team with the most points wins, etc. This is a form of evacuation drill that can be enjoyed with the mindset of participating in a game. For members of the general public, we hold next-generation evacuation drills around Shibuya. On August 31 as part of National Disaster Preparedness Week, we plan to hold a next-generation evacuation drill for some 100 participants focusing on people in their 20s and 30s.

©Bosai Girl ©Bosai Girl

Pictures from next-generation evacuation drills that are conducted locally nationwide using INGRESS.
©Bosai Girl

Q. Please tell me about the future plans of Bosai Girl?

©Bosai Girl

A. While cooperating even more with both government and business, we want to take steps to further expand the scope of both our disaster preparedness communities and our next-generation evacuation drills. If we are able to change the mindset of those young people who were previously disinterested in disaster preparedness issues, we can then engage the crowds who are unacquainted with Japan but will nevertheless arrive for the Tokyo Olympics. I want it to be said that “Japan is not just a country run by the functions and systems of its government; rather it is a disaster preparedness superpower when it comes to the consciousness of its people.”