Japan recruits foreigners to improve its travel advice

TOKYO Mon Oct 18, 2010 9:01am EDT

A man raises his hands and shouts ''banzai'' as he and others gather to watch the sunrise over Mount Fuji, which is known locally as ''Diamond Fuji'', from atop Ryugatake mountain in Fujikawaguchiko town, southwest of Tokyo January 1, 2010. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

A man raises his hands and shouts ''banzai'' as he and others gather to watch the sunrise over Mount Fuji, which is known locally as ''Diamond Fuji'', from atop Ryugatake mountain in Fujikawaguchiko town, southwest of Tokyo January 1, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is planning to recruit dozens of foreigners to visit the country and give advice on how to make things more travel-friendly for non-Japanese speaking visitors even as it aims for higher tourist numbers.

The government will pay travel allowances to about 100 native English, Chinese and Korean speakers to visit key cities and come up with ideas on how to make it easier for travellers to use public transport, stay at local hotels and eat at local restaurants, said an official at the Japan Tourism Agency.

Although Japan has made an effort to provide information in other languages in recent years, especially in major cities, these remain hit-or-miss and English still dominates.

But Japan's National Tourism Organization projects that the number of visitors from China will reach a record 1.5 million this year, many of them high-spending tourists eager to shop for Japanese electronics and other goods.

"What we hear is that there really isn't enough information on things like how to buy train tickets, or how to use the baths in traditional Japanese inns," said the official.

"It's hard for us Japanese to judge how prepared different parts of the country are -- we need people to use as monitors who really don't know Japan at all."

The official said one way to recruit these travellers could be over the Internet but that they would look at other methods such as asking the relatives of foreign students studying in Japan.

All expenses within Japan will be paid by branch offices of the Transport Ministry, which oversees the Tourism Agency. Part of plane fares to Japan may also be covered.

The information will be compiled by the government as part of a survey of tourism preparedness by late March next year.