FY 2012 International Workshop on Acceptance of Foreign Nationals and Their Integration into Japan
Large-scale Disasters and Foreign Nationals in Japan

February 6, 2013


FY 2012 International Workshop on Acceptance of Foreign Nationals and Their Integration into Japan

On February 6, 2013, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) held the above workshop at the Ota-ku Hall "Aprico", in collaboration with Ota-ku, Tokyo and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and with the support of the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) with the attendance of around 200 among which are Japanese and foreign experts, foreign diplomats, journalists, and the general public. The overview of this event is summarized as follows. The opening remarks were given by Shunichi Suzuki, Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Tadayoshi Matsubara, Mayor of Ota-ku. The keynote speech was delivered by William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the IOM.

1. Overview and evaluation of workshop

(1) While the scars of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 remain unhealed, the importance of measures to be taken when major earthquakes strike other regions was pointed out.

(2) The discussions centered on (a) how to disseminate multilingual information to foreign nationals in Japan at times of large-scale disasters, (b) how to ensure effective partnerships among relevant organizations and groups, including those of foreign nationals, and (c) the significance of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent activities for the acceptance of foreign nationals and their integration into Japan.

(3) In providing information to foreign nationals in Japan, it was reported that the active use of social media and the dissemination of multilingual information were crucial. In addition, the view was expressed that the dissemination of information in simple, easy-to-understand Japanese and the selection of information to be disseminated were important. It was extremely significant that the workshop provided an opportunity to share the perception that concrete frameworks of partnerships were being built for collaboration and cooperation among the foreign embassies in Tokyo, the Japanese central and local governments, and private organizations even at normal times.

(4) The participants shared the recognition that foreign nationals should be regarded not only as those needing help but also as those contributing to Japanese society in times of a large-scale disaster by sharing the experience of and lessons from not just "support for foreign nationals" but "support by foreign nationals" as well.

2. Summary of panel discussions (Chair: Ayumi Takenaka, Associate Professor, Sociology Department, Bryn Mawr College, U.S.A.)

(1) Concerning the dissemination of multilingual information for foreign nationals in Japan, the following views were expressed: Given the time and financial constraints in emergencies, it is also important to disseminate information in simple, easy-to-understand Japanese; it is necessary to select information that is truly useful to foreign nationals; it is important for both the central and local governments to actively use social media to prevent confusion resulting from wrong information or hearsay.

(2) CLAIR reported specific undertakings in connection with the need for the central and local governments and private organizations such as nonprofit organizations (NPOs) to build frameworks of cooperation even during normal times. They included a two-pronged response prepared in preparation for a disaster affecting a wide area: Japan is divided into six blocs and, for each bloc, two frameworks are maintained, one for mutual assistance among local governments and the other for communication between the central and local governments.

(3) As post-disaster efforts, the following cases were reported: (a) Foreign nationals in Japan took part in the preparation of an emergency response plan drawn up by their embassies in Tokyo; (b) at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the embassies in Japan of ASEAN member states cooperated with one another (the Philippines); (c) in Hamamatsu City and elsewhere, foreign residents are taking the initiative in disaster management activities, with Brazilian nationals of Japanese descent who have grown up in Japan acting as a bridge between Japanese and foreign communities through their disaster prevention activities. Some participants expressed views commending information sharing and networking through concrete efforts for disaster prevention at local levels.

(4) The MOFA side commented that (a) social integration was premised on reciprocal efforts on the part of foreign nationals and host communities and (b) a single organization alone was not capable of implementing support for foreign nationals in the case of large-scale disasters.

(5) Before concluding the workshop, the chairman summarized that the sharing of a hardship at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake constituted an important occasion for the Japanese people to think about coexistence with foreign nationals and that how to take advantage of this heightened awareness of solidarity between Japanese and foreign nationals was a future task.

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