Trends in Japan

Radio Stations Serving Japan's Foreign Population Go on the Air

MAY 23, 1996

(Photo: FM Inter-Wave Inc.)

The growing number of foreign residents and visitors has spurred the rise of radio stations offering news and other information in languages other than Japanese and English. On April 1 the Tokyo metropolitan area got its first multilingual station with the inauguration of FM Inter-wave, or Inter FM as it is known to listeners.

Broadcasts in Eight Languages
Although 90% of Inter FM's broadcasts are in English, the station also offers short "Public Service Announcements" featuring one of seven languages on a rotating basis--Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog, and Thai. The segments run about three minutes long and are aired three times a day.

Though emphasis is given to domestic and foreign news, a host of useful information is also provided, such as how to apply for a visa, the best places for viewing cherry blossoms, and new subway services.

The broadcasts have proved extremely popular among people from non-English-speaking countries. The response from foreign listeners has been good, with many remarking that hearing the information in their native language gives them a sense of security, even if they understand Japanese.

Inter FM also has something for people who want a bigger dose of their native tongue--a three-hour program called "Intercommunity Square," which airs at 1 AM on Sunday mornings. The language for the program alternates between Mandarin Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and Portuguese, with one language and country featured each week. Broadcasts of pop music are interspersed with introductions of individuals or groups active in Japan and how to contact them. "Intercommunity Square" has won praise as a venue for making friends and exchanging information.

Multilingual Stations in Other Cities
A similar trend toward multilingual broadcasts has gotten underway in other parts of the country as well. In October 1995, months before Inter FM went on the air, Kansai Intermedia commenced FM broadcasts in 14 languages in the Osaka area.

In Aichi Prefecture, where a large number of Brazilians live, FM Toyohashi airs a one-hour program in Portuguese. And Hyogo FM Radio serving the Kobe area has both Portuguese- and Spanish-language programs.

Today foreigners in Japan, including residents and travelers, are believed to make up about 1% of the population. With the proportion from China and other Asian countries on the rise, the needs of Japan's foreign-born population can no longer be met just by English- and Japanese-language broadcasts. It seems likely that new radio stations will continue to emerge in response to the growing need for emergency announcements and community and other helpful information in a variety of languages.

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