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Staff writer

Against the backdrop of sluggish domestic demand for travel and the recession in general, both the central and local governments are becoming increasingly eager to attract more foreign visitors to Japan.

Not only is this eagerness fueled by a desire to make Japan the destination of choice for the foreign traveler, it is one indication of how desperately and quickly Japan wants to increase job opportunities amid record-high unemployment figures.

The Transport Ministry plans to introduce a new system in March to provide tourism-related information and offer training on interacting with foreign tourists for people who want to work in the tourism industry.

In addition, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will also launch a “city sales” campaign later this month in a bid to boost the number of foreign tourists.

Since 1996, the ministry has been promoting “Welcome Plan 21,” a program aimed at increasing the number of foreign visitors to 7 million by 2005.

Under the plan, some local governments have created model tourist courses and publicized them overseas. Businesses are meanwhile offering discounts to foreign travelers when they use the transportation system, buy souvenirs, take accommodations or change money.

Last year, nearly 16 million Japanese traveled abroad. However, the number of foreign visitors to Japan during the same year was a scant 25 percent of that figure, according to the Japan Association of Travel Agents.

Major reasons for the decline in foreign visitors include an excessively strong image of Japan as an industrial nation, the lack of information in foreign languages and the high cost of staying in the country, according to JATA.

The good news, however, is that despite the appreciation of the yen against the dollar in recent months, the number of foreign visitors to Japan between January and September grew 9 percent from the same period the previous year. JATA officials attributed the increase to the rise in the number of business travelers from the United States and Taiwan.

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