Japan: Social Translation in Times of Crisis

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.

When disaster struck on March 11th, Japan was thrust onto the global stage. As inquiries, goodwill, advice, and donations pour in from around the world, citizens have responded in kind through various forms of social translation.

Earthquake manual

This is a basic manual on how to protect yourself during an earthquake, translated into 24 languages by students from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies.

This project started from just one TUFS university student from statement on Twitter. Since the magic of twitter, a large number of people turned into strong supporters who built up number of teams to make all the translation, more than 24 languages. Thanks to everyone who support this project.

They even have a Japanese easy version with katakana.

English wiki about earthquake information

This straightforward wiki contains practical information about the earthquake in English.

Japanese translations for #prayforjapan

Tweets with #prayerforjapan have been a source of great comfort to the people in Japan, and Noda Yuuki kicked off a crowdsourced project to translate the flood of tweets into Japanese. He is using tweetvite, his personal blog, and of course Twitter to call for people to pitch in. Translated tweets are bundled here on Togetter.

Spreading happy energy

Gen Taguchi, of 100shiki blog fame, tweeted this on March 10th:

元気の出るつぶやきを集めました・・・ – http://bit.ly/h52EM9

I started gathering tweets that will give us good energy. http://bit.ly/h52EM9

Professional translator/interpreter @vida_es_bella responded:

@taguchi タグチさん、ありがとうございます。これ、英訳しても良いですか?「日本人すごいね」みたいなのは、あまり強調しすぎるとイヤミになりますが、ならないように気をつけて。海外の友達にも知らせたいです。私は同時通訳者・翻訳者です。すでに翻訳中なら一緒に!

@taguchi Mr. Taguchi, thank you! Can I translate these into English? I'll be careful to stay away from the “Wow, the Japanese are wonderful” angle but I want my friends abroad to know about these conversations. I am a professional simultaneous translator and interpreter. If you've already started, let me join!

Here are a few selected tweets, with translations by @vida_es_bella.


バスが全然来ない中、@saiso が、バス停の前にある薬局でカイロを買ってきて、並んで待ってる人みんなに配った!

While waiting for a bus almost eternally, @saiso went into a drugstore in front of the bus stop, bought a bunch of hand warmers and handed them to those waiting for a bus!


日本人すごい!!こんな時にも山手線ホームできれいに整列してる …涙。有楽町駅を上から眺む。

Look! People are forming lines so orderly, waiting for a train on the Yamanote Line, the ring train circling the center of Tokyo. Proud to be Japanese. Looking down at Yuraku-cho Station (near Tokyo Station). http://twitpic.com/48kn1u

@endless_6 in Fukushima Prefecture:

スーパーで無事買物出来ましたヽ(´o`; でもお客さんのほとんどが他の人の事を考えて必要最低限しか買わない感じだったのが感動しました(涙)

I was able to do necessary grocery shopping after the quake. I was moved when I saw most people showed consideration for others by NOT buying more than what they absolutely need for the time being. Their act of conscience brought tears to my eyes.

Read more in English in this Google doc, or find French, German, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Korean versions here.

Multilanguage Aggregator

This site aggregates tweets with the hashtag #jishin_{language} in 11 languages.

2011 02 11 Earthquake JAPAN disaster information on Twitter in MULTILANGUAGE


This site was set up by one individual and was made possible by many people donating their time to gather information and translation. Don't wait for instructions, please take initiative and participate! Please help us!


Many bloggers have also put their language skills to good use, highlighting useful resources and positive messages in their own languages.

Hatena blogger herbe published an English list of the frequency channels for NHK Radio 2(AM), which offers English, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese and Spanish broadcasting.

Jiro Ohmizu translated 50+ tweets from celebrities abroad into Japanese on his site.

Roy Berman published a post entitled Who can and can not donate blood in Japan (and more):

There has been a lot of confusion over who exactly is allowed to donate blood according to Japanese regulations, especially foreigners. To try and clarify the situation I have translated the entire list of categories of persons who are NOT allowed to donate blood in Japan, from the Japanese Red Cross official web page.

Non-fiction writer Minetoshi Yasuda has set up a bulletin board for Chinese language speakers:


Twitter user @hathiko8 is diving into Chinese miniblogs to gather requests and information about Chinese students and workers in Japan. Below is a copy of her tweets, since my blog is accessible from China. I will try to include as many phone numbers as I can. We're also accepting questions from Taiwan and Hong Kong.


And of course, words need not be spoken (or translated!) with images. Webstagram has a filtered view for Instagram photos with #prayforjapan. There is a Naver page that has bundled images, too.

If you know of other good resources, please add them in the comments.

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.


  • Very interesting post, thanks, Tomomi! Here is a service that may be helpful – it allows collaborative translation of webpages: http://www.dermundo.com/

    • Hi Paula, thanks for the introduction! It seems you’re using it a lot. Do you do GV translation in this service and then copy it over to the Lingua WordPress…?

      • Hello Tomomi

        I am playing with it and talking to Der Mundo to see how we could make better use of the tool for Lingua.

        At the moment, yes, I translate the post and then do copy and paste, I have tried two different ways:
        – After doing fetch, I paste the whole translated text in wp and then edit the code using an text editor (links need editing, and some formatting is lost, like the translation style)
        – If there are more pics and videos than text, I paste only the text.

        So, as of now, it is more work than translating from scratch, but it may be very good to have crowd-translation for breaking news: a post could be really literally in 10 min!

        • The Japan team is using Google Docs and it’s working quite well. I guess the advantage of Der Mundo is that I wouldn’t need to send the Docs to everyone each time there is a new one. Look forward to hearing what comes out of your collaboration!

          A post in 10min sounds like a dream ;)

          • Well, there is also another trick that google docs doesn’t offer: help from google to translate… in fact, we only need to edit translations. Not sure if it would be great for Japanese but worth a try!

            It is also a great help to see everything in context… I just wish there was a button to publish in wp straight away!

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