Photo/IllutrationAlif Hidayat, an Indonesian who works under the foreign trainee program, stares at the remains of his home in Hiroshima’s Asa-Kita Ward on July 22. He had been trapped in debris after a landslide hit the house on July 7. (Tetsuaki Otaki)

HIROSHIMA--Hours after receiving a message he couldn’t understand, Alif Hidayat found himself buried in debris, his ears and mouth stuffed with earth and mud.

“I was ready to die,” the 23-year-old Indonesian recalled.

Hidayat, who came to Japan under the foreign trainee program, had received an evacuation order from the Hiroshima municipal government on July 6 during the deluge that hit western Japan, but he could not read the Japanese words. So he stayed at his home, and it nearly cost him his life.

With an increasing number of foreign nationals coming to Japan, authorities face a challenge of how to overcome language barriers to convey emergency warnings and other life-or-death information.

The Cabinet Office’s guideline on methods of relaying evacuation orders does not mention foreign languages.

“Currently, we have yet to review that,” a Cabinet Office official said about sending multiple-language alerts.

Hidayat and his three housemates, also Indonesian, were battling the flooding in the Kuchita-Minami district in Hiroshima’s Asa-Kita Ward when his mobile phone received an e-mail around 8 p.m. on July 6.

The unfamiliar beeping sound from the phone startled them. “What’s this?” they wondered aloud.

Hidayat started studying Japanese about a year ago, but the kanji used in the e-mail evacuation order was beyond his reading level.

The housemates ignored the e-mail and continued to remove garbage floating in the water that had inundated the first floor of the two-story wooden dwelling, which was provided by Hidayat’s employer.

The water level dropped, and Hidayat took a rest on the first floor.

Around 3:30 a.m. on July 7, a booming sound jolted Hidayat awake. Then the landslide slammed into the house.

He tried to escape through the door, but he was buried in the flow of mud, vehicles and other debris and lost consciousness.

His three housemates somehow freed themselves from the rubble. As the rain continued to pour down, they shouted “Alif” toward the collapsed house.

Around 10 a.m., six hours after the landslide hit, a rescue team pulled Hidayat from the debris. He suffered injuries to his arms and head.

“I am glad that everyone could survive,” Hidayat said. “But we could have fled soon if we had understood what was written in the e-mail.”

According to the national census conducted in 2015, the population of foreigners in Japan was 1.75 million, up by 1 million from four decades ago.

The Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments have posted disaster-preparedness and other related information in English, Chinese, Portuguese and other languages on their official websites. But foreigners must access the websites by themselves to view such information.

In addition, the governments release emergency information and evacuation orders via mobile phones only in Japanese.

(This article was written by Tetsuaki Otaki and Yuki Chai)