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KUNIBO - Promoting Coexistence with Local Foreign Residents by Using Disaster Prevention as its Theme -

© KUNIBO

Ms. Yukiko Yamazaki and Mr. Seiji Kawatsu
of the Kunitachi Regional Disaster Prevention
Liaison Committee with International Residents (KUNIBO).

In Close Up this month, we introduce the Kunitachi Regional Disaster Prevention Liaison Committee with International Residents (which is more commonly known as “KUNIBO”). With its base of operations in the Kunitachi City Community Center, KUNIBO aims to offer both foreign and Japanese residents an opportunity to learn about disaster prevention. Moreover, the group conducts numerous different projects that take the aforementioned learning and they apply it to the creation of a convivial society for all. KUNIBO also engages in activities that make use of its unique location in Kunitachi City. One such activity uses the links that it enjoys with a local university. Such links allow KUNIBO to register foreign language support volunteers from among long-term exchange students at the university. On this occasion, we spoke to two key members of KUNIBO, Ms. Yukiko Yamazaki and Mr. Seiji Kawatsu, about the results that the group has achieved and the issues that it confronts in undertaking its activities.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of KUNIBO.

A. Ms. Yamazaki: What acted as the starting point for the establishment of KUNIBO was the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995. From a person who was previously the Director of the Kunitachi City Community Center, an individual whose relatives in Kobe had been impacted by that disaster, we heard stories about the difficulties at evacuation centers that had confronted individuals who appeared to be foreign residents. The result of those stories was that a volunteer organization for international exchanges here in Kunitachi decided to hold a meeting to exchange opinions at the community center. To that meeting a number of local foreign residents who acquired Japanese through lessons at the community center were also invited. The topic discussed was what should be done if a major earthquake were to strike Tokyo.
Mr. Kawatsu: After those discussions, within the disaster prevention plan prepared by Kunitachi City, it was set out that a hub for the distribution of disaster prevention information for the benefit of foreign residents would be established at the community center. As to why the Kunitachi Community Center was selected, the center itself conducts a number of Japanese language classes. What is more, there are volunteer groups that undertake learning support of those classes. Accordingly, the community center attracts many foreign residents who wish to study Japanese. What followed on from this in 2009 was the establishment of the Kunitachi Regional Disaster Prevention Liaison Committee with International Residents (KUNIBO). Added to a core membership comprised of foreign residents who are learning Japanese at the community center, we have also been able to obtain the participation of exchange students from Hitotsubashi University whose campus is located here in Kunitachi. For the purpose of helping each other out and protecting one another from natural disasters, KUNIBO proactively engages in local exchanges.

Q. Please tell me about your main activities.

A. Ms. Yamazaki: At a pace of once every two months, we plan to carry out a project that is related to the issue of disaster prevention. The subjects that we cover sometimes include a series of events on a related topic. For example, we might discuss the various disaster prevention measures that are necessary for the securing of lifelines, or we might run a series on how to go about responding to events during times of disaster, etc. As to the project that we implemented this year, it has included events such as being able to experience how to go about securing items of furniture so that they will not fall over. We also held a lecture meeting that made use of a card game (called “Disaster-Prevention Duck”) which taught the participants how to go about protecting themselves, etc. As to an event that we hold every year, it is our “Cooking with a Polyurethane Bag” experience, a skill that would be handy during a disaster. What is more, we also participate in both the comprehensive disaster prevention drills held by Kunitachi City, and the disaster prevention drills for foreign residents that are sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Mr. Kawatsu: At KUNIBO, another thing we are doing is registering foreign students at Hitotsubashi University who are fluent in Japanese as “Foreign Language Support Volunteers.” In March of this year we again participated in the orientation program for new students that was held at the university. For those exchange students who were kind enough to register with us as volunteers, in June for training purposes we took them on a tour of the Tachikawa Life Safety Learning Center. Among its other attractions, the center allows visitors to experience a simulated earthquake whose seismic intensity on the Japanese scale is seven. Visitors to the center can also experience the smoke created by a fire. What is more, with the opportunities to learn how to put out a fire and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) device for first aid, there is a lot that can be learnt.

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When experiencing the securing of items of furniture, participants got to try things for themselves (L).
In the earthquake simulator room of the Tachikawa Life Safety Learning Center,
visitors get a surprise when experiencing a quake whose seismic intensity on the Japanese scale is seven (R).
© KUNIBO

Q. I have also heard that you have done some work on creating disaster prevention maps and stickers.

A. Ms. Yamazaki: On the Kunitachi Lifestyle Disaster Prevention maps, in responding to the wishes of local foreign residents, we have also indicated the location of facilities such as supermarkets and drugstores, etc. Furthermore, the information on the maps is given in Chinese, Korean, English and Japanese. The maps themselves can also be used as a teaching material for learning Japanese in that furigana script has been written in for the kanji characters. Concerning the disaster prevention stickers, they were created in consultation with foreign residents who are learning Japanese. Rather than been adhesive stickers, they are backed with magnets. This makes it possible for them to be stuck on fridge doors, etc. What is more, concerning the audio guidance that tells people how to use an AED device, we have also recorded the information contained in Chinese, Korean, English, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese, etc. We are now working to have these foreign language materials included with the AED devices that Kunitachi has placed throughout the city.

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Disaster-prevention maps and stickers.
They have been created in a manner so that they may also be used as Japanese language learning materials.

Q. Is there anything in particular that you are careful to do so that foreign residents actively seek to participate in KUNIBO’s activities?

A. Ms. Yamazaki: With respect to the projects that are related to the issue of disaster prevention, there has traditionally been an image of them being events that are both “serious and stiff.” However, in making our own plans, we try to arrange things so that ideas are also included that are “fun.” Earlier, I mentioned our “Cooking with a Polyurethane Bag” events which are not just learning how to cook during times of disaster. Rather, these events are very popular as ones where people can “enjoy themselves while learning” because while eating what they have made, participants also get the opportunity to communicate with one another. In January, we plan to hold a “Furoshiki Technique” class where participants can learn to use something that can come in handy both during times of disaster and also during the course of everyday life.

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“Cooking with a Polyurethane Bag” is a popular event that attracts many people.
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Q. Please tell me what has been achieved through your activities thus far.

A. Ms. Yamazaki: Our “Cooking with a Polyurethane Bag” events are actually held in conjunction with a cooking group called the “Okazu Club.” As such, I think the idea of us cooperating with other volunteer groups is a very good one. The more links that you can make, the more people you get to meet. Furthermore, it also means that there are more opportunities for people to become aware of the foreign residents who are living in our region. If the unexpected were to happen, rather than not knowing anybody at all, it would be a lot easier to help one another if people are known by their face. As such, rather than just limiting our events to foreign residents, we take care to create our projects so that as many people as possible can participate and get to know one another.
Mr. Kawatsu: As KUNIBO has continued with its activities over the years, we have begun to receive offers from various organizations and groups such as Kunitachi City, Hitotsubashi University and local residents’ committees about “doing something together in the future.” As such, I feel that our efforts have created a very positive ripple effect. Although the axis around which our activities revolve is the issue of disaster prevention, if you were to consider our efforts in overall terms, I believe that we are heading in the direction of becoming a group that is “multicultural with a focus on disaster prevention.” What this means is that, rather than having disaster prevention as our sole theme, we would like to hold events that as many people as possible could participate in which would also include aspects of cultural exchange. Of course, in that we understand the importance of holding activities such as disaster prevention drills repeatedly, in the future we plan to continue holding them each year.

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Disaster prevention drills in which it is hoped that people will participate in repeatedly.
In the future, KUNIBO intends to keep providing opportunities to do so.
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Q. In undertaking your activities, are there any issues that you face?

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A. Ms. Yamazaki: Although both Mr. Kawatsu and myself are unpaid volunteers, I would like it if KUNIBO was in a position to help cover some of the costs of those foreign residents and exchange students who spend many hours in helping us with our activities. For example, although mothers might not be working outside but are instead engaged in child-rearing, even if we were only able to pay them a very small incentive, I believe many of them would be very proactive in wishing to participate in our activities. I suppose a big issue for us is trying to secure such funding.

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Mr. Kawatsu: As another issue, disaster prevention maps are not something that you only need to make once. After a certain period of time has passed, in that the relevant information concerning the area has changed, it becomes necessary to create a new version. Although the community center here has provided us with a location where we can undertake our activities, it isn’t the case that we are being furnished by them with any form of financial support. As such, in the context of raising money in order that we can continue our activities, the issue of fundraising is one that we always worry about.

Q. Please tell me about the activities that you plan to undertake in the future.

A. Ms. Yamazaki: In the near future, we plan to participate in an “Intergenerational Exchange” event that is being organized by the community center. It is being billed as an event that anybody, either Japanese or foreign, can attend. The theme for the event on this occasion is teaching children about disaster prevention. KUNIBO will be attending with our “Cooking with a Polyurethane Bag,” and we have taken up the challenge of trying to make delicious cakes which children will love by using pancake flour. As to the people who are learning Japanese at the community center, relatively speaking, they tend to be rather young. As such, it would be great if the occasion gave them the opportunity to meet some young Japanese people as well. In that this event will attract a broad range of ages, I think it would be wonderful if it were a very relaxed occasion that included both local people and foreign residents.