Cover stock photo: Negative Space on Pexels

What numbers do you call in an emergency? In Japan, we call 119 for ambulances and the fire department, and 110 for the police. The problem is, in many areas the operator only speaks Japanese, so in an emergency non-Japanese speakers have to attempt the call in Japanese or get someone else to call for them.

Not for Iwate. Some cities including Morioka, Hanamaki, Oshu, and Ichinoseki can use a three-way interpretation service. This service was introduced last year and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with interpreters for English, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

I had the opportunity to see this system in action recently, as the Oshu-Kanegasaki fire department conducted a drill with its employees using the service.

There were two scenarios for the drill. In the first scenario, a Chinese speaker had severe stomach pains. In the second, an American English speaker had slipped and injured his shoulder near Oshu City Hall. In both scenarios, the sick or injured person (played by local international residents) called 119, speaking only in Chinese/English. The 119 operator requested an interpreter for the call, and then asked for information on symptoms, location, name and address through the interpreter. A team of EMTs would then arrive on scene and use the interpretation service to communicate with the patient.

Picture: The woman in the yellow vest is the volunteer Chinese speaker. The men in green vests surrounding her are emergency rescue workers, passing the phone with the Chinese-Japanese interpreter back and forth to check symptoms, personal information.

Picture: Volunteer English speaker calling 119 to explain he has fallen and hurt his shoulder. On the phone is the 119 operator, asking questions in Japanese, and the English-Japanese interpreter relaying information between him and the operator.

For the scenario I could understand (Japanese-English), the interpretation was accurate. The EMTs said that by practicing using this service, they could get a grasp of how it works and how to smoothly communicate through the interpreter by using clear, simple language and ensuring the interpreter could hear the conversation. The Oshu-Kanegasaki fire department has used the interpretation service twice so far, both times with Chinese speakers. They are working to ensure the safety of international residents and visitors through conducting drills like this one with the support of Oshu International Relations Association. As an international resident and an Oshu city employee, my hats go off to both organizations for their efforts.

(By the way, does the English speaking volunteer look familiar? That’s Dean, a member of the ILC Support Committee and who has appeared in at least 7 “Oshu for You” videos!)







(ところで、アメリカ人の傷病者役は見覚えありませんか?ILCサポート委員会メンバーと7本もの「Oshu for You」動画に出演するディーンさんです!)