The Foreign Ministry will scrap its numerical travel warning system beginning Friday and instead try to describe the level of risk Japanese travelers face when going overseas.

The government’s current travel warnings are based on five levels from 1 for “caution” to 5 for “evacuation advised,” with detailed safety information following each number. Under a level 2 warning, travel agencies are advised to cancel all group tours and all holiday trips should be postponed.

But after Sept. 11, Japan began to be criticized by the travel industry and other countries for raising warning levels on many destinations, leading to sharp dropoffs in the number of Japanese tourists, ministry officials said Tuesday.

Some local governments have even threatened to retaliate by boycotting Japanese products.

Under the new system, travel warnings will be issued in four levels defined by phrases: “Please be cautious,” “Please reconsider your trip,” “You are advised to postpone your trip,” and “You are urged to leave the country.”

The warnings will emphasize the importance of individuals securing their own safety and add a disclaimer saying that the government’s recommendations have no legal force and should merely be used as information for making decisions on self-protection. Thus, the decision on whether to organize group tours will be left to each travel agency, the officials said.

“We hope the new information will help citizens make their own judgment about traveling and become aware of possible dangers at each destination,” a ministry official said.

About 18 million Japanese citizens travel overseas each year, and some 800,000 reside in foreign countries. As many as 17,000 seek assistance at Japanese embassies and consulates abroad, officials said.

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