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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Metro info outreach targets foreigners

Program initiated in part due to local ethnic media's press club exclusion

Staff writer

Many non-Japanese newspapers and magazines published in Japan have difficulty getting information about government services for their foreign readers.

News photo
Zhou Hong, staff writer for the Chinese Review Weekly, works on an article at the newspaper's office in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo. ERIKO ARITA PHOTO

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government hopes to help out by sending information on local policies and services to foreign residents, in large part by way of the "ethnic media."

Hirotoshi Kuroda, director for the Liaison and Coordination of Cultural Events Promotion Section of the metropolitan government, said the planned information program is based on a proposal put forth last month by a committee of 10 Japanese and foreign community leaders and media representatives discussing how to help make life in the capital easier for people who do not speak Japanese.

Ethnic media are defined by the committee as outlets that target the foreign population here. But in practice they include groups that have been shut out of the nation's press club system -- to which the government releases most of its information -- and are not able to access the Foreign Press Center because their publications do not originate abroad.

The metropolitan program, expected to start by summer, aims at disseminating information about its services by such means as sending out press releases to the ethnic media, Kuroda said.

"We also plan to have meetings with members of the media periodically to explain our new services and programs, and the reasons for implementing them," he said.

According to the metropolitan government, the number of registered foreign residents in Tokyo increased year on year from 1996 to 2003, but the number declined by 1,463 in 2004 to 353,826 as of Jan. 1. That figure is 2.84 percent of the total number of Tokyo residents.

Among the Tokyo-area foreign population, Chinese account for 34 percent, North and South Koreans 29 percent, and Filipinos 8.9 percent.

Last March, the metropolitan government surveyed 35 media outlets on the daily living needs of foreigners.

Metropolitan officials also interviewed journalists from the foreign-language media and members of groups that provide help to new residents.

The results show that many foreign residents have problems securing housing, finding clinics and solving labor problems, Kuroda said.

The metropolitan government currently offers services in several languages, including helping people find medical service staff who speak their language and advising them on labor issues, including nonpayment of wages, he said.

"But many foreigners don't know about the services," Kuroda said. "We want to let more people know such services through the ethnic media."

The metropolitan government and Tokyo municipalities already publish information pamphlets in several languages, but Kuroda said these publications, available at City Halls, are seldom picked up by foreign residents.

Li Chun Guang, a 27-year-old Chinese student at Chuo University and a resident of Shinjuku Ward, said he did not know information in Chinese existed.

When Li came to Tokyo three years ago, he got his information from other Chinese students at his Japanese-language school and by reading free Chinese newspapers found at Chinese restaurants around the city, he said.

The newspapers "are useful for Chinese who cannot read Japanese," Li said.

More than 100 non-Japanese newspapers and magazines are published around the country, many launched between the late 1980s and late '90s, when foreign residents increased, according to Hideshi Moriguchi, a freelance writer who runs a Web site about these media.

Thelma Tomizawa, a 40-year-old Filipino who lives in the Tokyo suburb of Kiyose with her Japanese husband and their children, said many Filipinos in her neighborhood read Tagalog magazines published here or ask other Filipinos they meet at church for information.

Members of the targeted media welcome the plan.

Zhou Hong, a staff writer at the Chinese Review Weekly, with a Japanese circulation of 80,000, is upbeat about the new program.

"It will be useful if I can obtain information regularly, as I can then choose what I need for my articles," Zhou said.

To get local information, Zhou must go directly to government offices. When he asked at a ministry and a local government if he could become a member of their press clubs, Japanese reporters told him he could not join because he did not work for the Japanese media, he said.

Kim Min Jeong of Sinaburo, a free Korean-Japanese magazine that prints 30,000 copies mainly for the Tokyo area, said she looks forward to receiving press releases on cultural events because her magazine covers Korean and Japanese culture.

Nelson Toyomura, market and planning director at JB Communication, publisher of the weekly Portuguese newspaper Jornal Tudo Bem, said both the metropolitan government and media should work together to create an effective information program.

"The metropolitan officials may not grasp what kind of information the ethnic media want," Toyomura said. "So we should discuss with the officials on our needs."

Toyomura, a member of the committee that proposed the program, said the initiative is appreciated because Japanese authorities do not recognize most foreign-language publications based in Japan as media.

Japan-based foreign-language media cannot use the services of the Foreign Press Center in Tokyo, as the center only allows media based abroad to join, he said.

Freelance writer Moriguchi said it is natural the Tokyo government plans to work with the ethnic media because Japan allows in foreigners.

But he said the government should do more.

If it wants to use the media to disseminate information, it should also help them by offering subsidies and office space, Moriguchi said.

Many of these organizations have unstable financial situations, he said. Their publications are free and money comes from advertising, but recently they cannot get enough ads amid the economic slump, he said.

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