December 2017


Our monthly online newsletter, "L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place, area, cosmos, and gap.

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Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

- Developing Human Resources to Assist Troubled Foreign Neighbors -

In this month’s Close Up, we introduce an organization called “Our Foreign Neighbors We Care” (hereinafter referred to as “We Care”). As a group that offers foreign nationals living in Japan “communication support and life support to remove linguistic cultural barriers,” We Care commenced its activities in November of 2016. Those of the group’s members who were instrumental in its founding have all lived overseas. Furthermore, each of them possesses a deep understanding as to the importance of multiculturalism. In that each of the founders has the desire to leverage their varied experiences to support foreign nationals so that they may lead healthy and safe lives in Japan, it seems that We Care has developed a variety of different ideas. On this occasion we were fortunate enough to meet with a gathering comprised of We Care Representative Director Yukako Takada, Vice Representative Director Mayako Matsuki, and Directors Julija Knezevic, Wakana Goto, Hideki Toyoguchi and Kanako Shida, all of with whom we discussed the group’s activities to date and their plans for the future.

(Back Row from Left to Right)
Ms. Shida, Ms. Knezevic, Mr. Toyoguchi
(Front Row from Left to Right)
Ms. Matsuki, Ms. Takada, Ms. Goto

Please tell us what led to the establishment of the group.

Ms. Knezevic

It all started with Ms. Takada and myself happening to work together in the teaching of a summer intensive course as part of the Open Academy Program run by the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. During a class being taught on the health and rights of women, we had the opportunity to be involved in an intrepretation-training exercise that was based on the premise of foreign women seeking assistance in this country. That exercise gave both of us an opportunity to consider the issues that directly confront foreign nationals living in Japan. What is more, it allowed us to consider how people like ourselves might do something by way of assistance. Out of that there then arose a discussion about formulating a group whose activities could assist individuals confronted by such issues. What is more, as a result of our explaining what we had in mind to the intensive course we were then teaching, a number of participants raised their hands in agreement with our ideas. Those were the people who subequently became the individuals with whom we established We Care.

From the Workshop for Medical Interpreting where
Ms. Knezevic (Left) served as an instructor.
© Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

Participants reading an English text at the same
Workshop for Medical Interpreting.
© Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

And in the year since the group started, what sort of activities have you been involved in?

Ms. Goto

We have successfully held workshops on two occasions thus far. At our initial Workshop for Medical Interpreting held in June,after participants learned that possessing a degree of cultural understanding is indispensable for medical interpretation, using specific medical conditions such as breast cancer, etc. for training purposes, they undertook role-playing exercises whose premise was that they needed to act as an interpreter during an examination. Meanwhile, to the Community Interpreting Workshop that was held in September, we invited an instructor who is involved in both the provision of consultation services to foreign nationals, and in coordinating courses for the nurturing of Japanese language volunteers. To the workshop participants the instructor presented case studies that dealt with consultation services being offered to foreign nationals. Specifically, they raised some particularly complex issues that touched upon healthcare and Japan’s social security system. The instructor then invited the participants to consider matters while working in groups. For the people in attendance, furthermore, the instructor gave a presentation that attempted to define domains and set out what roles were expected to be played by community interpreters who were active across various fields including healthcare, legal matters, administrative affairs, education and general consultations, etc.

Participants at the Workshop for Medical Interpreting
shown thinking about the issue of multicultural understanding.
© Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

A group discussion at the Community
Interpreting Workshop.
© Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

Ms. Shida

The activity we are focusing on most heavily at the current time are Seminars for Medical Interpreting. We are holding such events at a pace of once a month. They are not merely for the benefit of individuals who aim to become medical-interpretation professionals. Rather, we also hope to attract people who have a desire to help any foreign nationals in the broader community who happen to be confronted by difficult issues. To the participants in our Seminars for Medical Interpreting, after briefly telling them what they need to know when acting as a medical interpreter, for each session we decide on a single medical condition. That condition is then employed as the basis for the individuals in attendance to practice their interpreting skills. For the fifth session of our seminars, we place participants in the imaginary situation of being at a hospital. There, they are given the opportunity to participate in a complete medical-interpretation role-playing exercise that commences with the filling-in of pre-examination screeners, and then proceeds through a simulated examination. It ends with assisting a foreign patient in the procedures required to settle medical bills. In that opportunities to experience such a continious role-playing format are rare, as a simulation for actually acting as a medical interpreter, our participants get to experience some of the tension that is associated with doing the job for real.

A role-playing exercise involving the reception
desk of a hospital being conducted at a Seminar
for Medical Interpreting.
© Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

A role-playing exercise involving
an examination room.
© Our Foreign Neighbors We Care

Having now engaged in your activities for a year, what are your impressions?

Ms. Matsuki

When we started, we didn’t really know the extent of the need that existed for Seminars for Medical Interpeting. However, in that there are constant responses when we call for interested parties to register, we now realize that there are people who have been waiting for just such an opportunity. Furthermore, such people range from individuals who already have advanced language skills, to others who are interested in the topic and hope to improve their language abilities going forward. In that it could be said that there are more and more people who are interested in multiculturalism, and more and more who wish to offer support to the foreign residents around them who are confronted by difficult issues, I get the impression that we are not mistaken in the approach that we are taking. Looking to the future, in addition to our current seminars, I would like to see us hold workshops on multicultural understanding. I would also like to have “speaking salons” where individuals could be given the opportunity to converse in whatever language they like.

In conducting your workshops and seminars, what issues have become apparent?

Mr. Toyoguchi

To talk about our seminar participants, they are a varied lot both in terms of what led them to take part and in terms of their previous experiences. Obviously as well, in that their language skills vary, we have had some difficulty in deciding what level of language proficiency our content should be pitched at. In that we have received feedback through questionaires, and in that for subsequent seminar sessions we have tried this and that, you could say that our first year of operations has been one of trial and error. Looking to the future, thus, we intend to conduct separate seminars for participants whose language skills range from the introductory to advanced levels.

Ms. Goto

We are seeing more and more people participate in our seminars whose native language is not Japanese. Currently, for the purposes of conducting role-playing scenarios we prepare materials in English and Chinese. However, we have realized recently that we also need to respond to the needs of some of our participants by preparing Japanese language materials that have small hiragana script written beside any kanji-based content. In that in the future more and more people from different countries will begin to participate, it will become more and more difficult for us to be able to offer a language response for everybody in their native language. Thus, I think there will be more and more occasions when we will resort to conducting events using simple Japanese. Furthermore, with respect to our Community Interpreting Workshops, I would like to see us make more of an effort with regard to the topic of disaster-prevention.

As an organization, what issues are you facing?

Ms. Takada

From some foreign nationals who live here in Japan, concerning our organization having the word “Foreign” in its name, we have received some feedback that it has an undercurrent of keeping people at arm’s length. Although I don’t believe that such a nuance is in keeping with the original meaning of the word, nevertheless in that contemporary Japan is still somewhat of a closed society, it is something that might be contributing to such an impression being drawn. Whatever the case, when we get to the point of becoming a fully-fledged NPO, I would like to revise the name that we are known by in order to avoid such misunderstandings. Another issue for us is the securing of human resources. Although we are conducting Seminars for Medical Interpeting, the number whose proficiency would actually allow us to dispatch them to assist people is still very small. What is more, we don’t have enough operations staff. Those are two issues that we must address.

Mr. Toyoguchi

Another difficult issue is not having enough operational funding. Of course, that issue could be resolved once we become recognized as a fully-fledged NPO and we become able to receive subsidies, however, it seems that it will take a little time until that happens. Thus, I would like for us to be able to search out some businesses and organizations that appreciated what we want to do and who could be asked to cooperate with us accordingly with respect to funding issues.

And concerning the field of medical interpretation on which We Care is focusing, I would assume that there are a number of difficult issues…

Ms. Shida

I actually began to participate in We Care from the perspective of my job as a medical interpreter. With the appearance of a medical interpreter on the scene, there are obviously a number of merits for a medical institution in that it becomes possible to more quickly arrive at an accurate diagnosis and issue suitable treatment to a patient. That being said, in that there are also significant benefits for local municipalities that want to keep a lid on medical expenses, I would like to see the practice of using medical interpreters grow and expand. By combining forces with other organizations that are active in supporting foreign nationals in Japan, and by creating a set of circumstances in which there is a broad understanding as to the necessity of developing a system for the dispatching of medical interpreters, I think that there will be help forthcoming in resolving the wide range of issues with which medical interpreters are currently confronted.

Ms. Knezevic

There is also the difficult issue of who should shoulder the expenses involved in using medical interpreters. Should hospitals shoulder the cost, should the patients themselves be invoiced, or should the use of medical interpreters be covered by insurance? For example, even if doctors are able to speak English, if they have to both diagnose patients and carry out various procedures in English as well as Japanese, then areas of their work would be duplicated. Accordingly, a way out of such a dilemma would be to promote the involvement of medical interpreters so as to help reduce the burden placed on the shoulders of doctors. However, I think it will take time for such ideas to take hold. Furthermore, in a personal capacity I have uploaded some videos to YouTube that recreate as a role-play the work of a medical interpreter.* In that such videos allow for people to learn about the work of medical interpreting in the comfort of their own homes, I would like a great many people to make use of them as a resource.

*The videos in question have been posted by Ms. Knezevic in a private capacity. They have not been posted as part of the activities of We Care.

Please tell me about the future development of We Care.

Ms. Takada

Concerning medical interpreting, in that I don’t think that in Tokyo we are in a position to take our time and wait until some sort of dispatching system comes into being, even if we are just talking about a level of activity that would not go so far as being able to have interpretation at medical institutions, I would still like to nurture human resources that could assist non-Japanese people in situations such as those encountered at pharmacies, during medical checkups, and during immunization procedures. Indeed, it is for that purpose that last month we commenced our “Introduction to Healthcare Interpreting” sessions. What is more, concerning individuals who have already studied medical interpreting and those who are active as professional interpreters, we intend to hold classes on an ongoing basis so they can brush up on their skills. Concerning community interpreters meanwhile, in that matters have not progressed to the point of numerous municipalities and international exchange organizations being able to dispatch their own interpreters across municipal boundaries, governnment is still faced with the problem of being unable to dispatch people who can respond to individual personal needs. Accordingly, I would like for us to develop a dispatch structure that was capable of overcoming such constraints. To talk about the current situation, even if local municipalities and international exchange organizations put in place consultation services for foreign nationals, the reality is that many of the people that are targeted by such services are not even aware that they exist. I would like for We Care to be an organization that could support such people. Furthermore, in that there are limits to what we can do as a lone organization, while cooperating with various municipalities and other groups that have been established to support foreign nationals, I would like for us to aim to become a society where all can live comfortably.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

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