New agency will try to increase foreign tourists

by Reiji Yoshida

The Cabinet adopted a bill Tuesday to create a new tourist agency under the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry to help increase the growing number of foreign tourists to Japan, particularly those from Asia.

The agency will be launched in October with 103 officials by unifying six sections of the ministry. The formal English name of the organ has not been decided yet.

The launch is in line with the government goal of enticing more foreign tourists to Japan, which posted a 13.8 percent surge in 2007 to a record 8.34 million visitors. About 70 percent of them are from Asia.

The government, using the campaign slogan Yokoso Japan (Welcome to Japan), is now trying to increase foreign tourists to 10 million by 2010, considering visitors a key source of revenue to reinvigorate rural regions and the tourism industry.

The agency will be the first external bureau for a government ministry to be created since the Financial Services Agency was established in July 2000.

The government also adopted a separate bill Tuesday to be submitted to the current Diet session that would create “tourist regions” to promote tourist stays of more than two nights for purposes of sightseeing.

Local governments and businesses would submit regional plans to the central government for authorization and subsidies.

For fiscal 2008, the government plans to budget ¥270 million for that purpose, said an official at the ministry in charge of tourism promotion.

The Japan National Tourist Organization said Monday that Japan saw a record number of foreign tourists as the weak yen lured more Chinese shoppers and fans of Japanese pop culture.