As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics approach, the city’s Metropolitan Police Department is working to polish the foreign language skills of its officers.
The police department’s aim is to ensure quicker responses when tourists are in trouble — such as losing their belongings or being involved in accidents or crime. It also plans to install translation software that can handle 30 languages in officers’ smartphones next spring, as part of efforts to welcome foreign visitors for the Tokyo Games.
“Down the street. Turn to the left at the next intersection,” an officer said during a lesson at the Itabashi Police Station. An English class is held once a week at the station for officers who have finished work.
Shigetaka Kai, deputy chief of the station, is the lecturer. “It’s important to use gestures and speak earnestly. I hope that the officers will respond warmly (to foreign visitors) so that they’ll like Japan,” said Kai, 55, who was once assigned to the Tokyo bureau of Interpol.
English classes for police officers were also held 54 years ago for the 1964 Tokyo Games. Footage exists of officers learning conversational English.
During the 1964 Olympics, there were reports of 17 thefts targeting foreign nationals, and officers who studied English were dispatched to handle such cases. Hisaaki Motooka, 88, provided security then as a member of the police riot squad. “I underwent intensive English training for about a month.”
“Things are different now from my time, but I believe the (police officers’) passion toward sharing a historical moment won’t be different,” Motooka said.
The number of foreign visitors to Japan has steadily increased in recent years, reaching 28.69 million last year. The government has set a goal of increasing the number to 40 million in 2020, the year the Olympics take place. As the figures rise, the number of foreign visitors involved in accidents or crimes is expected to increase.
Rookies spend about six to 10 months training at the police academy. Each night before bedtime, about 10 minutes of practical conversation is broadcast in English, Chinese and Korean. This includes useful phrases such as asking visitors to show their passports.
The program aims to help police officers to acquire basic conversation skills. Officers who provide interpretation study further at language schools.
In February 2017, the police selected riot squad members fluent in English to form an English-speaking squad, nicknamed “DJ Cops,” who use friendly, witty announcements to manage crowds during big events, such as the Tokyo Marathon and during fireworks displays. The effort has drawn positive feedback.
The police department has also obtained 5,000 smartphones with translation software that can produce audio in 10 languages, including English and Chinese, and text translations in 20 languages, such as Arabic and Hindi.
Road signs with English words are being installed at about 1.7 million locations nationwide. In Tokyo, signs that explain how to use the push-button traffic lights for pedestrians have been installed in multiple languages. The police department is distributing brochures in a variety of languages that explain Japan’s road signals and traffic rules.