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Tsukuba International Network: Hard At Work For You

Author:Author unknown, Issue: June 2001, Topic: Community

The Tsukuba International Network is an organization with representatives from numerous research institutions and volunteer groups (including the Alien Times) as well as from the city government that works to come up with solutions to problems foreign residents face. TIN is headed up by Tokio Ohska, who directs the international office at the High Energy Physics Laboratory. TIN has regular meetings to discuss various issues that have plagued the international community for years or that crop up anew from time to time.

The first major success was getting the local buses to put numbers on their buses so that those who could not read Japanese could know which bus they were getting on. As simple a thing as that would seem to be, years of individuals complaining to the bus company had gotten nowhere. It wasn't until an organized group both with a certain amount of clout as well as a willingness to help facilitate the change that progress was made.

Presently, TIN is working on several issues. Number one on the list is to convince the Japanese immigration authorities to open up a branch office in Tsukuba. Several years ago, the Alien Times spearheaded a petition drive to ask the city to put in a formal request to the national government to see that this be done. The city officially passed such a resolution, but that by itself was not enough. TIN has approached both the city and the prefecture to get them to push harder, and they are receptive to that. Other neighboring cities, such as Tsuchiura and Mitsukaido, are likewise being petitioned to join in the effort. It apparently will just take a lot of noise being made. This certainly appears to be a case where "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." (Japanese culture is more often succinctly encapsulated in the Japanese phrase "Deru kugi ga utareru - The nail that sticks out gets pounded in," but here, it would seem, a more "western" approach is needed.) Perhaps a little "gaiastu" (outside pressure) from foreign entities would help too. It would seem such an obvious thing to do, as the national government is committed to further increasing the number of foreign researchers it sponsors in Tsukuba. And yet, another branch of that same government makes it inconvenient to negotiate the paperwork that is required by forcing people to take a whole day off from work to go into Tokyo or up to Hitachi. Hopefully, this will change in the near future. But don't hold your breath. Bureaucratic wheels turn slowly and take a long time to "put grease on squeaky wheels."

Another major effort TIN is undertaking is dealing with the issue of the education of the children of foreign nationals. Their efforts are divided into two main parts. The first is to support the present Tsukuba International School by acting as an advocate in any way it can. The second area involves the Japanese schools themselves, as this is where the majority of foreign children are. This takes the form of both trying to improve the way local schools handle foreign children as well as the broader view of challenging the Education Ministry to make long term plans for putting more resources into helping children who are not native Japanese speakers. At present, foreign children are welcome to attend Japanese schools, but there is no publicly funded program to help them. Local schools are basically dependent on volunteers to help with the integration of such children into the local schools.

Other projects TIN is involved in include:

  • Working with the local chamber of commerce to develop a system of sanctioning local businesses where someone can communicate in English to put up signs saying "English is Spoken Here". In the future, then, other languages would be added.
  • Encouraging the local police to increase the number of personnel who can speak at least basic English. At present, there is only one such officer in Tsukuba. TIN has even volunteered to provide free English lessons for police officers.
  • Encouraging local banks to install ATM machines that can deal with foreign credit cards. Short-term visitors often face the problem of not being able to access their cash because they didn't realize they couldn't do that with their foreign issued credit card (as can commonly be done in other countries).

An ongoing effort is being made to coordinate the efforts of many groups that provide some information to their constituents so that all can benefit from them. The city has a web page with lots of good information on it, and so TIN is helping the city improve that further. As a public entity, however, the city can not give an evaluation to any specific restaurant or whatever, and so TIN is planning on setting up its own web site in the near future on which such information could be given. They are presently applying for funding for this project.

Members of the foreign community in Tsukuba are always welcomed to make suggestions on how they think some particular aspect of life in Tsukuba could be improved. This doesn't mean complaining about every little thing that bugs one, of course, but if you have a concrete suggestion to make, do let your voice be heard. The best way is probably to contact the international desk at your institute, if that is appropriate, or you can always email the Alien Times and we will be happy to do that for you.

<< Religious Activities in English: June 2001 | Master Index | The Rainy Season: June 2001 >>

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