HOW TO DEAL WITH EMERGENCIES IN JAPAN

So, here’s the thing. One night a couple of weeks ago, my beautiful baby, the most precious thing in my life, had to be picked up by an ambulance and rushed to the hospital.

I was cooking and he wanted to be in the kitchen with me but since it’s a dangerous area where he is not allowed, I carried him over to the other side of the baby gate. Before I could catch him, he was throwing a tantrum and accidentally hit the back side of his head hard on the baby gate’s metal frame. He cried furiously but, seemingly fine, calmed down a few minutes later. He was good all throughout dinner and was his usual excited self when we got into the bath. Halfway through, instead of enjoying the bubbles and tinkering with the shower head like always though, he started crying inconsolably. He was still wailing when my husband helped me carry him out of the bathroom. And then, the scary part, he started vomiting. Hurling continuously with only a few minutes of repose between each. By the time the puking stopped, he was exhausted and could barely keep his eyes open, wanting to sleep. I settled him down in the bedroom while my husband called the emergency hotline – wanting to just consult if there’s anything we could do to help with his discomfort. As they were talking, the person on the other end of the line asked him to check on our sleeping baby. To our horror, we found that he vomited once more – WHILE SLEEPING! – and had to be patted quite strongly and rocked before he would wake up. That’s when the medical personnel decided to send an ambulance over.

Fortunately, before that day ended, my son was back home – safe and sound. His condition improved and after a CT, the doctor was not able to pinpoint the cause of the vomiting but assured us that there wasn’t any injury to the head. Still, it was a terrifying experience especially since I can’t stop thinking about how clueless I would have been in handling the situation if my husband weren’t around. It was actually his first night back home after a 3-day business trip and if the accident happened just a day before, I know it sounds very stupid, but I would not even know what hotline to call.

So, I have resolved to educate myself about what to do when faced with emergency situations in this foreign country and have written this post not only as a personal reference but also as a cautionary tale and a helpful guide for other clueless foreigners in Japan.

EMERGENCY HOTLINES

There are two hotline numbers that you should remember in case of emergencies: 119 and 110.

119 : Dial this number if you need the fire department or urgent medical services.

110: This number will connect you to the police so call it if you have been a victim of/witness to a crime.

There is no direct coordination between the two hotlines so in some cases you might need to call both. For example, if you were in a traffic accident and there are injuries, you would of course need an ambulance so you should call 119. At the same time, you would need the police to come over to determine legal responsibility and file a report so you should also connect to them using the 110 hotline.

You can use cell phones, public telephones or land lines to reach both hotlines. It will not cost you anything to call 119 and request for an ambulance.

ARE ENGLISH/FOREIGN LANGUAGE SERVICES AVAILABLE?

Note that I haven’t actually tried calling them and testing whether they would be able to accommodate callers who can not speak Japanese. I don’t want to risk possibly delaying response for actual emergencies. That said, as far as my research goes, it seems that the foreign language services available depend on the area or city you are in. This page from the official website of the City of Sendai, for example, says that 119 is available in 17 languages other than Japanese including even Filipino. One city offers it in 5 foreign languages, another in 16 while the area where I reside, Yokohama, shockingly enough does not appear to cater to calls using foreign languages just yet.

There apparently have been many cities stepping up their game and launching the service in foreign languages in anticipation of the 2020 Olympics. Still, you can never be sure about the status of things where you are so if you do not speak Japanese, my advice would be to arm yourself with basic useful expressions for emergencies – just in case.

USEFUL EXPRESSIONS FOR EMERGENCIES

Asking for help from people nearby:

  • Tasukete! (Help!)
  • Keisatsu o yonde kudasai (Please call the police)
  • Kyuukyuusha o yonde kudasai (Please call an ambulance)
  • Shobosha o yonde kudasai (Please call the fire department/a fire truck)

Describing your emergency:

  • Jiko desu. (There’s been an accident. Ex.: koutsuu jiko means ‘traffic accident’)
  • Kaji desu. (There’s a fire.)
  • Kega desu. (There’s been an injury.)
  • Byouki desu. (I’m ill. If you want to say someone else is ill, you can say ‘byouki no hito ga imasu)
  • Kibun ga warui (I don’t feel well.)

Giving more details about the emergency (this would help them decide on the details of the dispatch:

  • [Person] ishiki fumei desu. (… is unconscious)
  • [Person] shukketsu desu (… is bleeding)
  • [Person] keiren desu (… is having convulsions)
  • [Person] hakimashita (… vomited)
  • [Person] kossetsu desu (… has a broken bone)
  • [Person] hidoi yakedo desu (… has a serious burn)
  • [Person] kou netsu desu (… has a high fever)

OTHER INFORMATION YOU SHOULD BE READY WITH

When calling for help, be sure to have the following information ready:

  • Your name (o-namae)
  • Your location: If the emergency happens at home, give your full address (jusho). If you happen to be outside, they will ask where you are (doko ni imasu ka?). Especially if you are a tourist or are not familiar with the area, this could be confusing but just stay calm and give the best landmark you can provide. Better yet, if there passersby, don’t hesitate to ask for help. By the way, if you are calling from a landline, they should be able to automatically trace your location (but again, be ready to provide it just in case).
  • Your contact number (denwa ban-go): They might need to call you to confirm your location

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN CALLING EMERGENCY HOTLINES

Again, I would like to emphasize that I haven’t actually done this and could not speak for the total accuracy of this flow of conversation. However, the information I have gathered from the internet suggests that the receiver of your 119 call will follow the pattern below:

  • They will acknowledge that you have called the local fire department (shoubouchou) then ask whether you are calling about a fire or if you need an ambulance instead (kaji desuka? kyuukyuu desuka?)
  • They will ask you to describe the emergency and possibly provide more details. You might be asked something like “Dou shimashita ka?” (What happened?). Try to make use of the expressions we discussed above.
  • Then you will be asked to provide your location. When asking for your address they might say “Jusho wa dochira desuka?”. They will likely repeat the address provided so be sure to confirm that the information is accurate.
  • After, they will ask for your name (O-namae wa?).
  • Before they call ends, expect them to ask for your phone number as well (Denwa ban-go o oshiete kudasai).

WHAT TO DO WHILE WAITING FOR EMERGENCY RESPONDERS

  • While waiting for the ambulance or fire truck, be sure to have your phone close as they might try to reach you if they run into any issues on the way (ex.: they are already in the location you provided but it appears to be wrong.
  • To facilitate a quicker and smoother process when they arrive, unlock the door to your home and if need be, clear your hallway in advance, then wait for the ambulance to arrive.
  • If possible, and especially if you feel that your current location might be challenging for them to pinpoint, once you hear hear the siren, go outside and show the crew the way.

CONCLUSION

I really do hope that none of my dear readers will have to go through the frightening experience of being in an emergency situation. Just as much as I hope my recent brush with it will be my last. However, I have learned the hard way that being prepared really pays off. If you do find yourself in an emergency, it would be my greatest joy if this article has, in any way, helped prepare you in handling it.

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