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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Students whip up multilingual site with disaster information


Staff writer

On the day after the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a group of students from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies gathered a group of volunteers to set up a multilingual website for foreign residents seeking information about the disaster.

The site, which can be found at nip0.wordpress.com/ , comprises amanual that includes general information such as what to do when a major earthquake hits, where to ask for help, such as contact numbers of embassies and a list of useful links.

After expansion, the site now offers most of the information in 41 languages, including Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Turkish, Hindi and Indonesian.

The website was translated from a Japanese website that the students thought carried reliable information. It was initially translated into Turkish, French, German, Russian and Portuguese when the website was first uploaded.

The number of languages grew day by day. Now, the translations are done by more than 100 volunteers, including university students, professors and native speakers of those languages.

It all started from a Tokyo University of Foreign Studies student who tweeted "Can't we do something to help?" right after the earthquake. By communicating through Twitter, several students came up with the idea of creating the manual.

"All of us who participated in making the manual shared the same feeling. That's why the manual was made with such speed, energy and power," said the 23-year-old representative of the website, who declined to be identified.

The student, who majors in French, said he shared a thought with his classmates and friends that it would be helpful to offer foreigners any information available in their own languages, when they are far away from home, feeling helpless and lonely at a time like this.

"We wanted to let them know that there are at least some people in Japan who are thinking of them and are trying to help," he said.

Soon after, one of the students from the university's French department asked around, looking for volunteers to translate the manual into French. Students from other language departments followed. The message was also spread widely through Facebook and Twitter. Artist Yoko Ono retweeted one of the tweets on March 13, and this helped spread the word all over the world, the representative said.

"We received comments and help from so many people from all over the world. For example, a Turkish person sent us a message praying for Japan's safety, and a Hungarian person residing in Hungary offered to help translate the website into Hungarian. A French person who is fluent in Japanese keeps sending us French translations each time new Japanese text appears on the web," he said.

Some natives have pointed out mistakes in the translations and offered the right ones," he said, adding, "I want to thank all the people involved in this project, and hope from the bottom of my heart that this manual will reach out to more and more people who really need it."



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