ICU 2015 Spring Commencement Address by Junko Hibiya, President


Junko Hibiya

Matthew 25:40b
Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

Graduates of the College of Liberal Arts, master's degree programs, and doctoral degree programs, congratulations! I express my heartfelt congratulations also to the families, relatives, and friends of the graduates watching this ceremony from Diffendorfer Memorial Hall.

20 years has passed since the Great Hanshin Earthquake. On January 17th, numerous memorial events took place for condolences to the victims and to reaffirm the determination to spread the words of experiences and lessons learned from that disaster.

Needless to say, ones who become the victims of a disaster are the people who live in the region. In such emergency situation, the lives of these people depend on the efficiency of the distribution of accurate information. Posting of information in English started half a day after the Earthquake and 5 days later the "Gaikokujin Jishin Jouhou Center:外国人地震情報センター" (renamed as the Multicultural Center:多分化共生センター 9 month later) was established distributing newsletters and opening a hotline in over 15 languages. However, many were still left without information and as a result, the percentage of victims and casualties of people who do not speak Japanese as their mother tongue, was much higher than that of those who were able to communicate in Japanese.

Under these circumstances, a group of linguists who strongly believed in the necessity of an accurate information source during emergency situations started a project entitled "The Language Component of Emergency Contingency Planning". Multilingual support is crucial, whereas this group focused on the usage of Japanese expression during emergency situation. They proposed several basic rules such as a) to use simple terms in simple structured sentences, b) carefully align the order of information, and c) add paraphrased sentences for important terminology concerning disaster. Also, they participated in distributing information through their website during the occurrence of a disaster as well as dispatching researchers to public institutions and NPOs all over the country upon request for lectures and advices.

In addition, experiments on the effectiveness of these simplified Japanese have been initiated from 1998, with the cooperation of people whose mother language is not Japanese. For example, the radio announcement experiment was targeted to see how information through listening would effect their action. For this experiment, Group 1 was told "あぶないので、帽子をかぶってください (Danger. Please wear a hat)"and Group 2 was told"落下物に備えて、頭部を保護してください(Protect your head from falling objects)". Where 95% of the people in Group 1 could act appropriately, only 11% of the people in Group 2 were able to take action. Several similar experiments verified the effectiveness of the proposed basic rules.

On the other hand, the poster experiment, targeted to see the effectiveness of information through written media, indicated a completely opposite result where information including Kanji characters, which were considered as difficult, was actually more effective compared to simple expressions that followed the proposed basic rules. This was because many of the participants had kanji background. Like so, choosing sufficient method of information distribution depends on the linguistic / text background of the recipient, which is an issue not easily solved.

The majority of the graduates today have entered ICU in April 2011, where the matriculation ceremony could not take place due to the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake. During that period 4 years ago, that research group produced notices with respect to the results obtained from the experiments in order to provide information using sufficient Japanese expressions under emergency situations.

Speaking of information distribution concerning disasters, we must think not only about people who does not speak Japanese as a mother language, but about people who requires special assistance. A film director Ayako Imamura produced documentary films such as "3.11 Without Sound ~There were Deaf People in the Disaster Area Too", "The Connecting Bridge ~Silent Earthquake Disaster of 3-11~". To practically use these contents for educational or training purposes, various study guides are published and are available from Imamura's official website.

The 22nd Language and Literature Committee of the Science Council of Japan (SCJ), established in October 2011, half a year after the earthquake, has announced "Investigating the method of information distribution to information illiterate (especially in times of disaster)" to be one of the three most prior tasks. Indeed, a project started off with a couple of researchers after the Hanshin earthquake has developed into a systematic movement at a governmental level. This task has been handed over to the 23rd Committee that became operational from last autumn, of which I am a member. SCJ's primary mission is the establishment of a network between researchers in order to support the government, however I am so thankful to be given the opportunity that my specialty in linguistics can help in communication during disaster.

In today's address, I introduced an example in my own field on how one's study may serve the society. Since you are graduating ICU, which policy is to educate promising individuals to serve God and humankind, I hope that what you have acquired here and what you will learn in society using the acquired skills as a basis, will be a force for good.

This reminds me of the words of Father Tetsuro Honda, who is pursuing an activity to read over the original text from the bible at the "Furusato no ie" in Kamagasaki, Osaka. His words are as follows: "the force to live, the force to rise... is not given by a religionist, but is given by fellows who know the pain." Today I have read a verse from Matthew Chapter 25, verse 40 "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Let me introduce its meaning through Honda's wording. "Whatever you did for the member of my family of whom is made to be the smallest, you did to me". Here, brothers are the people who you are connected with, who can share your pain, and through "the smallest" it is trying to find a connection with god. For a more detailed explanation, please see the dialogue by Father Honda, Dr. Sasagu Arai, Dr. Tetsuya Takahashi in the book "After 3/11 and Christianity". I pray to all of you who are leaving ICU will live days finding an approach from god through "the smallest one".