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Northeast Japan village gives out tablets to all households to help the elderly

The Mainichi logo The Mainichi 05/12/2021 The Mainichi
A resident checks information delivered from the Ohkura Municipal Government in Yamagata Prefecture on Nov. 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Taisuke Kodera) © The Mainichi A resident checks information delivered from the Ohkura Municipal Government in Yamagata Prefecture on Nov. 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Taisuke Kodera)

OHKURA, Yamagata -- A village with an aging population in northeast Japan is distributing tablets to all households to provide government services, such as confirming residents' safety and delivering disaster information.

The Yamagata Prefecture village of Ohkura has already distributed tablets to all families with at least one member aged 65 and older, and will complete covering other households soon. The project seems to have been well received, and the municipal government plans to start full-scale operation of the program in December. Unlike the community wireless disaster-prevention systems operated by local governments, users can freely add apps to the devices. Local authorities expect positive effects from the first initiative of its kind in Yamagata Prefecture.

Commenting on the tablet, resident Miyoko Saito, 75, said, "I learned from my grandchild how to use it. Because I've been forgetful, a one-time announcement is not enough. It's great that I can check information (on the tablet) over and over."

Saito was using the village's disaster prevention app "Kuracchi." It turns text into speech, and letter and images can also be attached. The local government's announcements had previously been broadcast through loudspeakers as well as the community wireless system, whose receiver is set at each household. But residents could not replay it if they missed it. With the tablet, on the other hand, announcements can be repeated any number of times.

The July 2020 torrential rain disaster and the prefecture's first cluster of coronavirus infections that hit Ohkura prompted the municipal government to introduce the system. Due to confusion caused by misinformation about the coronavirus, the village settled on the idea to distribute tablets to provide more accurate information.

The cost of the project totaled some 60 million yen (about $530,000), part of which is covered by central government subsidies. Since 65% of the village population is aged 65 and older, the municipal government intends to expand the use of tablets to support elderly residents who live alone and to conduct online medical examinations, in addition to delivering disaster prevention and administrative information.

The municipal government plans to hold a series of seminars to teach residents how to use the devices. The village's crisis management office chief Katsuya Sato commented, "We have the advantage as a small community (to carry out this initiative). We'd like to remove residents' sense of hesitation toward digital devices and to use them at the center of residential services."

(Japanese original by Taisuke Kodera, Yamagata Bureau)

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