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WaNavi Japan Supporting Non-Japanese Residents Through Disaster-Prevention & Life Skills Workshops

© WaNavi Japan

From left to right, Director Ms. Beth Yokohara, Ms. Yayoi Abe,
Ms. Jyothsana Narasimhan, and Co-Executive Director Ms. Mina Nishisaka

This month in Close Up, we have the pleasure of introducing WaNavi Japan, a recognized non-profit organization. The group’s activities can be traced back to the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in May of 2011, when a core group of mothers involved in a diverse range of activities that included teaching either the Japanese language or cross-cultural education, or who were involved in other activities such as international cooperation, etc., came together and decided to hold disaster prevention workshops for the benefit of non-Japanese mothers. These days, as a group with a multinational membership that possesses a diverse and specialized skill-set, WaNavi Japan works to provide the necessary information and support so that non-Japanese people and their families can live in Japan with both peace-of-mind and confidence. On this occasion, we were fortunate enough to speak with four members of WaNavi Japan; Co-Executive Director Ms. Mina Nishisaka, Director Ms. Yayoi Abe, Ms. Beth Yokohara and Ms. Jyothsana Narasimhan.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of WaNavi Japan.

A. Ms. Nishisaka: Although unfortunately she was unable to be with us today, it was my colleague Ms. Motoko Kimura who now serves as Co-Executive Director of WaNavi Japan who originally created the opportunity for the organization to take shape. When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, she was working as a Japanese Language Teacher. Accordingly, when trying to make contact with her non-Japanese students from the school where she worked on the day following the tragedy, she came to the realization that even among those of her charges who were more proficient in the language, there was much uncertainty in that they also experienced great difficulty in obtaining accurate information as to what had actually transpired. Following close on the heels of that experience, she then met a non-Japanese mother carrying a baby girl of just seven months old. That person complained to Ms. Kimura that her own insufficient Japanese language skills meant that she didn’t know how to best protect her child. She also mentioned that she had little knowledge of either disaster-prevention or earthquakes. It was such experiences that made Ms. Kimura want to offer something in support of those non-Japanese mothers who happened to be living in Japan.

© WaNavi Japan © WaNavi Japan

(Left) WaNavi Japan co-executive directors Ms. Nishisaka and Ms. Kimura.
(Right) Ms. Kimura explaining the contents of a disaster-preparedness kit.
© WaNavi Japan

Ms. Kimura herself, who was then nursing a ten-month old daughter, was seeking what she could do in the aftermath of the quake. Thus, after reaching out to friends who found themselves to be in a similar situation, she formed WaNavi Japan and took steps so that she could hold a disaster-preparedness workshop for the benefit of those non-Japanese mothers who were then living in Japan. That first workshop was held on May 27th, 2011, and the non-Japanese mothers who attended it wrote letters of support to women in the impacted areas who had children of their own. Those letters, the proceeds of the first event and a number of donations were all then sent north. Over time, as WaNavi Japan had the opportunity to hold more and more workshops, we came to realize just how high was the need for disaster-preparedness education to be undertaken for the benefit of non-Japanese. As the reputation of our activities began to spread by word of mouth, WaNavi Japan began holding disaster-preparedness workshops at more and more locations such as international schools, companies and embassies, etc., and things kept expanding to the point that we started to also hold lifeskills events that dealt with topics such as Japan’s medical system and food safety issues, etc. Additionally, we began to hold Japanese cultural events that could be enjoyed together by Japanese and non-Japanese participants alike.

Q. What about those of your members who are involved in the running of WaNavi Japan?

© WaNavi Japan

A. Ms. Nishisaka: Our group is comprised of members who possess a wide range of specialist skills, such include language education, cross-cultural education, business, marketing, survey research, international cooperation, IT, and involvement in the legal profession, etc. One of the features of WaNavi Japan is that many of our members are mothers. Thus, while offering support to one another as we individually seek to strike a balance between our child-rearing responsibilities and work, I believe that as a group we have been successful in realizing a new style of employment. What is more, three of our current seven directors happen to be Japanese, while the other four are all non-Japanese nationals. Thus, in that we do have a strong non-Japanese component amongst our membership, I feel that we can gather pinpoint information that can respond to the needs of non-Japanese people. Moreover, we can then go about explaining it in a manner that is readily understood by our intended audience.

© WaNavi Japan

A. Ms. Abe: Among the non-Japanese nationals who happen to be WaNavi Japan members, some have Japanese spouses, others are single and working, while some are even engaged in graduate school research while also juggling their job with the rearing of children. Thus, even if you simply refer to them as being non-Japanese, the reality is that numerous different circumstances have placed people in this country. What is more, even for people who have transferred to Japan due to work commitments, it should be remembered that the actual level of support that they receive from their employers can vary greatly. Thus, concerning the activities that WaNavi Japan undertakes, we are as careful as possible in that we try to incorporate the views of foreign nationals who come from a wide variety of different backgrounds.

Q. Ms. Yokohara and Ms. Narasimhan, what led you to become members of WaNavi Japan?

© WaNavi Japan

A. Ms. Yokohara: I am originally from Australia, a country where earthquakes hardly ever occur. My husband is Japanese, and I have been living in Japan continuiously since 2004. Nevertheless, when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, I found myself bewildered in trying to manage with a daughter who was just five months old. It was around the same time that I participated in a WaNavi Japan disaster-prepareness workshop, and sometime later I received the opportunity to help with the group’s operations.

© WaNavi Japan

A. Ms. Narasimhan: I arrived in Japan from India in 2014, and soon after I had the opportunity to participate in a WaNavi Japan workshop. In that Japan is a country with many earthquakes, a number of people told me that I would be better off thoroughly learning about such matters. When I attended my first workshop, what surprised me was the great quality of what was being discussed, and that the people who were delivering the presentations so well were a group of mothers. When Ms. Kimura asked me if I would like to become a member, I must say that I was thrilled by the prospect.

Q. Please tell me about the disaster-preparedness workshops that you hold for non-Japanese, the ones that seem to represent a cornerstone of your activities.

A. Ms. Nishisaka: The basic workshops we run last for a period of two-and-a-half hours. During that time, we help participants develop the ability to gain the necessary information and skills that they might just need in order to save their own lives if an earthquake were to occur. Using a quiz format, we start off by teaching participants how they should act once an earthquake strikes. We then explain the mechanisms that cause earthquakes, and the difference between magnitude and seismic intensity. Once we have put into their minds information concerning related phenomena such as tsunami and liquefaction, we then proceed to tell participants something about that preparatory measures that Japanese society has put in place by way of response. Furthermore, when a disaster does occur, what is really important is being able to quickly obtain accurate information about the situation in the local area. Thus, we give participants a list of reliable sources from which they can gather English language information, and then we proceed to tell them how they can set up their television sets so as to get the English language sub-channel that is broadcast by NHK news during times of disaster.

© WaNavi Japan © WaNavi Japan

(Left) A disaster-preparedness workshop conducted at an international school.
(Right) WaNavi Japan also receives requests to conduct events from companies where the guardians of children attending such schools work.
© WaNavi Japan

At the workshops as well, we give a crash-course in the Japanese terminology that is related to disaster-prevention so that participants may gain some basic knowledge. From our perspective, to begin with the seven words that we would like everybody to grasp because they are of great importance during times of disaster are as follows: jishin (earthquake), shinsai (disaster), shindo (seismic intensity), shingen (epicenter), tsunami (tsunami), kasai (fire), hinan (evacuation) and yoshin (aftershock). Although these terms are written using some rather difficult kanji characters, we use pictograms to input their images into the minds of participants, and finally we confirm their understanding using a set of cards.
Furthermore, we also have participants learn six key sets of instructions. They are as follows: Hinan-shi-te-kudasai (Please evacuate yourself), Nigete-kudasai (Run), Kakure-te-kudasai (Please take cover), Hanare-te-kudasai (Please get away (from)), De-te-kudasai (Please go outside), De-naide-kudasai (Please don’t go outside). At the venues where we hold our workshops, we also conduct some exercises where participants are expected to respond to commands such as Kasai-desu. Tatemono-kara-de-te-kudasai (It’s a fire. Please get out of the building), and Tsunami-desu. Takai-tokoro-e-hinan-shi-te-kudasai (It’s a tsunami. Please evacuate yourself to somewhere elevated). I should point out that these exercises are something unique to the programs run by WaNavi, and it is when we do them at workshops that the participants get most excited. In that everybody who attends a workshop gets fully-involved in what is going on, the two-and-a-half hours just seems to fly by.

© WaNavi Japan © WaNavi Japan

(Left) Pictograms are used to create images and stories, and then kanji are used to input the information into participants minds.
(Right) Furthermore, cards are used to draw a solid correlation between the sound of words and how they are written.
© WaNavi Japan

Q. Please tell me of your impressions having attended a workshop.

A. Ms. Yokohara: When a disaster occurs, if you are in the situation of caring for a small child, there can be a tendency to panic. However, by attending the workshop, I learned what keywords to listen out for when focusing on what was said in announcements. I think it is very important to be able to distinguish between shi-te-kudasai (Please do (something)) and shinai-de-kudasai (Please don’t do (something)). I also learnt how to go about gathering correct information, and how to use the saigaidengon daiyaru (the disaster messaging service that is run by various phone companies). These days, I have organized how to pick up my children who are attending elementary school and nursery school, respectively, and how to get in contact with my husband if the need should arise. I also know how to go about contacting family members back in Australia.

A. Ms. Narasimhan: I think the knowledge was able to solidly penetrate my mind because I learnt while being made to move around during the course of the workshop. Furthermore, I gained some valuable experience in that some of the workshop members accompanied me to a Tokyu Hands afterwards so that I could buy some disaster-preparedness goods. When shopping for such items, many seem to only offer explanations in Japanese. That means that non-Japanese who don’t understand the language are unable to appreciate either the function or purpose of such goods. More recently at WaNavi Workshops, steps have been taken to sell original disaster-prevention kits, and I believe that development has made the participants who want to start their own preparations immediately very happy.

© WaNavi Japan © WaNavi Japan

At the “Bosai (Disaster Reduction) Festival” held by Minato Ward in July,
many families participated in the Disaster-Preparation Kit Workshop run by WaNavi Japan.
© WaNavi Japan

Q. What other activities do you undertake in addition to your disaster-preparedness workshop?

A. Ms. Abe: In that we would like to give people the opportunity to learn a lot about the attractions of Japanese culture, we proactively undertake events that introduce various topics. For the benefit of families, we run bilingual seasonal events where Japanese and non-Japanese people can come together and enjoy one another’s company. In holding them, to the extent that it is possible, we try to find a venue that can provide us with tatami-matted rooms. Thus, we have held a Tanabata event at the former mansion of the Marquis Nabeshima which is located in the grounds of the Myojuji Temple in Setagaya Ward. We also had a particularly Hinamatsuri event at a café in an old renovated home in Meijiro. In addition to such occasions, we have also conducted workshops that have offered experiences and lectures to adult audiences on topics such as Zen meditation, the tea ceremony and Japanese incense, etc.

A. Ms. Nishisaka: We also do interpretation and translation. In that both Ms. Kimura and myself have some links in that we run a course at Hitotsubashi University that introduces Japanese culture, we have more than a few opportunities to act as interpreters and translators for teachers of Zen meditation, Japanese etiquette, the tea ceremony, flower arrangement and Japanese cuisine, etc. When doing translation tasks, we start off by having something that has been translated by a Japanese member of staff given to a foreign colleague for further elaboration. In that nuances are also checked together, I think the translations that we offer to people are of a rather high quality.

© WaNavi Japan © WaNavi Japan

(Left) The Tanabata event held at the former mansion of the Marquis Nabeshima.
(Right) Japanese culture workshops for adults are also held (right).
© WaNavi Japan

Q. Please tell me about your future plans for activities.

A. Ms. Nishisaka: At the “Bousai (Disaster Reduction) Festival” held by Minato Ward in July, we ran a Disaster-Preparedness Workshop. Furthermore, at the “Libra” Gender Equality Center in Minato Ward, during the course of the current financial year, we will run a series of life skills workshops that have been designed to help non-Japanese people achieve a soft landing as they adjust to living here. The first in the series on the 9th of September will cover disaster-preparedness, and on October 5th the second installment will deal with Japanese medical institutions and emergency medical care practices. On October 26th, the third workshop in the series will address the labeling of Japanese produce and foodstuffs, while the final event to be held on February 22nd next year will give participants some appreciation of Japanese manners and etiquette. In that the workshops shall be possible due to a subsidy issued by the aforementioned Gender Equality Center, because it is imagined that more non-Japanese will arrive in the country in the lead up to the Olympics and Paralympics of 2020, going forward I would like for us to consider the undertaking of a range of different initiatives in conjunction with local government. Although local government has in its possession much quality information, it is regrettable that not much of it is in a state that can be easily accessed by non-Japanese. I think it would be wonderful if WaNavi Japan were able to act as a gateway to such information for non-Japanese in the future.