Masaki Hirata, an associate professor of humanities and social sciences at Nagoya City University, started a project with his students to explore new and offbeat ways of introducing sightseeing spots in Nagoya to foreigners through the medium of English.
The project aims to promote hidden tourist attractions such as maid cafes in the city’s Osu district and “Nagoya-meshi” — dishes popular in or unique to the city — to young foreigners.
Last month, Hirata held an English tour guide contest at the university, during which female students wearing maid costumes and school uniforms gave a presentation in fluent English on “ideas to attract ‘otaku’ (geeks) to Nagoya.”
“We have to create more spots where ‘anime’ (animation) fans can enjoy themselves! How about creating some kind of a market for comic books?” one of the students said during the “cosplay” presentation.
Last September, the 20 students in Hirata’s class were divided into four groups and researched tourist attractions by interviewing people in related fields and sampling Nagoya-meshi.
Themes and foods introduced in the contest included Taiwan ramen that originated in Nagoya, a mazelike underground mall and tap water drawn from the Kiso River.
In their presentation, the students explained that “the underground malls were built because there was too much traffic on the surface in our current car-oriented society.”
Another group joked that “just like there is American coffee in Japan, we have ‘American Taiwan ramen,’ a milder version than the normal one.”
“We usually only consider traditional tourist attractions such as Nagoya Castle or Sanei-ketsu, a festival that celebrates the three most famous samurai warriors born in Aichi,” Hirata said. “But the students are different. Maybe this kind of mindset is what we need to attract tourists in this modern time.”
The judging panel included Makiko Kumazawa, who interprets for foreign leaders and dignitaries during their visits to Japan.
“There have always been English-speaking volunteer tour guides, but they are mainly housewives who do it to practice English, or retired men. Only young students would have enough courage to give their presentation in costumes,” Kumazawa said.
Hirata had long been aware that Nagoya is not exactly a tourist draw.
“Nagoya has a weaker presence than Tokyo or Kyoto and there are still many unknown tourist attractions,” he said.
According to a survey taken by the city, a little more than 440,000 foreign guests stayed in Nagoya’s major “ryokan” (inns) and hotels in 2011, down 28 percent from the previous year and the lowest figure in the past five years, due partly to the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.
“In preparing a guidebook in English, I realized very few existing pamphlets gave information on stores and restaurants that focus on young people,” said Kurumi Kako, 20, the leader of the group whose members attended the presentation while wearing a variety of costumes.
“Nagoya has rich ‘cool Japan’ elements, such as the otaku culture and ramen popular among foreigners,” said Chisato Katsuta, one of the students taking part in the project. “There are many unique things in our daily lives that seem normal to us, but they can potentially help attract tourists. I want to find more and turn them into tourist attractions.”
This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 28.