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Shinjuku Multicultural Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Discussion City Walk (Part 1)

On November 24 2012, around 20 people including students, members of NGOs and NPOs based in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, representatives of the Social Welfare Council and Peace Boat international staff gathered for the Multicultural and Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Discussion City Walk. This programme was implemented as part of the disaster volunteer skills training, and so graduates of Peace Boat’s Disaster Relief Volunteer Leader Training also participated.

Suppose an earthquake occurred right under the capital. This city walk was implemented to equip participants with advance knowledge of the area, in case that emergency ever happens.  Called “First, Know your Area,” it took place in the Takadanobaba area of Shinjuku – where the Peace Boat office is located.  While such “disaster prevention city walks” take place in various towns, Peace Boat joint the coordination in Shinjuku to add a multicultural viewpoint as an international NGO, and also considerations of the role of volunteers in disaster mitigation.

First was a lecture to grasp the overall situation of international residents in Shinjuku.

The venue was the Shinjuku Multicultural Plaza near the Seibu Shinjuku Station.  This centre was established by the ward to support the local international community – 1 in 10 people in Shinjuku are non-Japanese. Japanese classes are conducted, and there is a consultation corner for foreigners. The lecture was given by Mr Okuma, the Plaza’s General Manager and a staff of the Ministry of Culture. Mr Okuma described the regional characteristics and the backgrounds of the foreign residents in each section of the Shinjuku ward.

Regional disaster prevention plans concerning evacuation in case of a disaster and public support have been put together, yet much of the content is based on  ssumptions of the “ward residents.”   The population working in Shinjuku during the day is about three times that of the registered residents, many of which are “out of area residents.”   Disaster prevention plans are under review in light of this, however because the number of people affected and registered residents differs widely in an urban disaster, it must be said that a great deal of confusion can be expected.

Following the lecture, the group walked to the Okubo area – the suburb just next to Takadanobaba.

While multinational shops have gathered around Okubo, recently it has become known as “Korea Town” and Korean style restaurants and cosmetics shops stand out more and more. Fourth generation Korean residents in Japan (known as “Zainichi” Koreans”) were also participating in the city walk; the Okubo area is where many people of both Korean descent and also Koreans who have come to Japan recently gather, as well as people interested in Korean culture and food.

On Ikemen “Good-Looking Guys” Street, in addition to restaurants, Korean fashion shops line the road.

For lunch, participants divided into smaller groups and ate together in an effort to build friendships.

The afternoon gathering place was the Shinjuku Cosmic Center on Meiji Road.

The “10-year fireproof in dense areas project” is now underway in Tokyo. Since the newly built Route 72 from Meiji road and the area between Shin Okubo Station to Takadanobaba Station is densely populated, this plan is looking at how to prevent the spread of fire in case of an accident or disaster.

Route 72 in front of the Shin Okubo Station.

Unfortunately, the reality is that this area sandwiched between big roads would be difficult for firefighters to access.

The city walk leaves the Cosmic Center and continues through the adjacent Toyama Park.

The picture below is of the Shinjuku Sports Center, inside Toyama Park.
  Either this facility or the above mentioned Shinjuku Cosmic Center is being considered as sites for the official “Disaster Volunteer Center.”

For those in Takadanobaba, where Peace Boat’s office is located, when a disaster occurs, this Toyama Park is the designated evacuation centre. While the Danger Zone – Hazard Map designates the evacuation site boundary as the Kanda River, it might be difficult in reality to evacuate this far. As the walk takes more than 15 minutes even during normal times, in such a case there would certainly also be many people joining from the busy Takadanobaba train station.

Walking through the city like this provides a valuable opportunity to compare and consider the prearranged disaster plan with reality and experiencing it with your own eyes and legs.

(To be continued)