WaNavi Japan offers programs to tear down language barriers especially during emergencies or disasters

Photo credit to: https://www.hippostcard.com

As the number of foreigners is expected to rise due to the recent shift in the immigration policy of the Japanese government which generally encourages non-native visitors and settlers in its country, a Tokyo-based non-profit organization hopes to educate these foreign newcomers with the basic Japanese warning signs in preparation for the disasters that may come their way.


The founder and co-executive director Motoko Kimura of WaNavi Japan proposed to use the traditional Japanese kurata card game after learning of her friend who struggled to overcome the language barriers in an attempt to understand valuable information when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck the country about nine years ago. Through her friend – who was an American citizen – along with other foreign inhabitants in Japan, Kimura discovered a great divide between Japanese locals and foreign settlers with regard to their knowledge and understanding about Japan’s evacuation shelters and wireless disaster information distribution systems.


At one point, Kimura mentions, “I heard that some foreign residents walked alongside the coast when returning to their homes because they didn’t understand the meaning of the (tsunami alert) sirens.”


In order to address this looming problem in Japan and prevent any unfortunate incidents in the years to come, Kimura through WaNavi Japan offers this program of using the traditional Japanese kurata card game as a disaster preparedness measure intended to dispel the issue on language barriers in times of emergencies.


According to our source, a karuta game starts out with one person reading aloud the words or phrases on a reading card. Each of the other players, thereafter, shall choose a picture card with a character and image that corresponds to the word or phrase read by the first person. In this manner, participants – especially foreigners – will be accustomed to disaster-related terms in Japanese including jishin which means earthquake and hinan which translates to evacuation.


As an additional aid, WaNavi Japan also released an app which gives evacuation instructions in the English language catered mostly to foreign inhabitants of Japan.


“I want people from abroad to learn Japanese disaster-related terms needed for survival right after their arrival in the country.” – Kimura


Reference: NPO uses traditional Japanese karuta card game to help foreign residents learn disaster-related vocabulary


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