Photo/IllutrationSuzanne Leigh, in black, checks the front of her house that was hit by fallen trees during Typhoon No. 15 in Kamogawa, Chiba Prefecture. (Yuta Ogi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KAMOGAWA, Chiba Prefecture--Foreign residents here are turning to each other to overcome language barriers and “insufficient” measures by local authorities to survive in the destruction wrought by Typhoon No. 15.

Suzanne Leigh, a 54-year-old American who lives alone in an old farmhouse in the mountainous Kozuka area of Kamogawa, said the typhoon hit her home with a “bang” in the wee hours on Sept. 9.

She said the house swayed as if an earthquake had struck the area.

“I was in fear of my life. I could barely sleep that night,” she said.

In the morning, she found many trees about 10 meters in length had fallen on the roof, and one side of the house was on the verge of collapsing.

After police arrived, Leigh, a free-lance writer who came to Japan 10 years ago, said she was too panicked to communicate in Japanese with the officers.

She sought help from her fellow American friends, Tod McQuillin, 50, and his wife, Kristen, 53, who have lived in Japan for more than 20 years and speak Japanese well.

The couple helped Leigh share information with officials at city hall and other places and let her stay at their home in Kamogawa.

“If I didn’t have connections with my peers, my life would have been much harder,” Leigh said.

A 22-year-old Chinese student showed one example of how unfamiliarity with something in Japanese culture can lead to more damage.

She was in her room in an apartment near JR Awa-Kamogawa Station on the night of Sept. 9, when a “kawara” roof tile blown away by the wind crashed through a window and fell into her room.

Her room has “amado,” or sliding shutters used to deter thieves and prevent storm damage. But she didn’t know what they were for.

“We don’t have amado in China,” the student said. “I had no idea what it is for. I was really scared.”

In Ichihara, Catholic Filipino residents have been supporting each other since the disaster.

A 56-year-old Filipino woman who has lived in the city for about 30 years took a 65-year-old compatriot into her home for four days.

The older woman is a dialysis patient, and the blackout caused by the storm prevented her from using air conditioning at her home.

The younger woman offered to help because she was worried that the patient’s condition would worsen.

“Friends help each other in an emergency. We are the family of the church,” she said.

In Kimitsu, Vietnamese technical trainees working at the Yume-no-sato nursing home had been forced to live without electricity in their dormitory until the evening of Sept. 15.

They had depended on flashlights at night.

When Wi-Fi at the facility was restored on Sept. 13, they checked Japanese news websites and read them by using a dictionary app. They finally understood their situation and the scale of the typhoon damage.

“Power outages happen in Vietnam, but I have never had one that lasted this long,” a 20-year-old trainee said.

As of December 2018, about 153,000 foreigners lived in the prefecture, accounting 2.4 percent of the total population.

The prefectural government has operated the “Chiba Prefecture disaster prevention portal site” and provided information, such as evacuation centers and distribution points for relief supplies. The site has an automated translation function for English, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese and Korean.

“There are many foreigners who don’t even understand what an evacuation center is,” said Eriko Suzuki, a professor at Kokushikan University who specializes in immigration policies. “Leaving it up to the automated translation function is insufficient. There needs to be easy-to-understand explanations.”

Suzuki also pointed out that the prefectural government needs to be regularly engaged in inspections to determine the best places to deliver information to foreign residents, such as churches, mosques, ethnic grocery stores and supervisory groups for technical trainees.

(This article was written by Yuta Ogi and Erika Matsumoto.)