In and around the host cities of the World Cup soccer games, volunteers have been preparing in earnest to welcome spectators from abroad.
Some plan to hand out free information booklets, while others will hold international get-togethers. Even home-stay programs are available for visitors who want to mingle with local people.
Saitama Prefecture has organized about 650 registered volunteers, aged between 18 and 80. They will be stationed at information centers and train stations near Saitama Stadium to answer questions and, if necessary, provide basic first aid.
The prefectural government initially arranged 400 openings for volunteers but received 922 applications, including some from as far away as Iwate Prefecture, more than 400 km north, said Mamoru Okazaki, a prefectural official.
The prefecture has held various preparation courses for the volunteers since August.
One lecture that proved popular with the volunteers was an introduction to the cultures of five countries whose teams will play in Saitama: England, Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Belgium and Sweden. Most guest speakers were natives of those countries.
There were also practical first-aid seminars. A 41-year-old housewife who attended the seminars said she was not interested in soccer when she moved to Saitama three years ago, but she couldn’t miss the chance to contribute to this huge international event.
While she looks forward to the games, she is also worried that some unexpected medical emergencies could occur.
“There may be a case that goes way beyond our imagination,” she said.
Unofficial volunteers were meanwhile also finalizing their preparations.
Saitama Soccer Supporters, a group formed in March 2001, plans to hand out 30,000 free copies of a booklet introducing the area around the stadium. The booklet is written in Japanese and English and compiled from material gathered by local children.
Group members have included with the booklets folded paper cranes and handwritten message cards saying “Welcome to Saitama.” Rumiko Takehara, who was in charge of the booklet that will be handed out near Saitama Stadium, said the group wants foreign visitors to know more about the city.
Another free booklet prepared by TASK 2002, a Saitama-based group, contains information “not covered by official guidebooks.”
For instance, it has information for the traveler on a shoestring budget, with tips on where to find inexpensive accommodations, where to camp out, and where to find handy and cheap shopping opportunities, such as at 24-hour convenience stores and 100 yen shops.
The booklet comes with a map of Saitama and the Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro districts in Tokyo.
Because TASK 2002 is made up of soccer lovers, the information in the booklet is based on members’ experiences traveling abroad for games.
Group member Takashi Kinoshita said a lot of the foreign spectators will be desperate for tips to cut costs, because soccer fans go abroad to watch matches even if they don’t have much money.
He wants to be hospitable to foreign spectators just as he enjoyed the kindness of people in Malaysia and other nations.
“There will be another opportunity to watch the World Cup in the future, but there’ll never be another chance (for our city) to host matches,” Kinoshita said.
“Even a small kindness can make travelers happy and make them fond of this country as a whole.”
Yokohama Camp Village, a citizens’ group, proposed two years ago that the Yokohama Municipal Government build a campsite for foreign spectators who cannot afford expensive accommodations.
The group hoped that the campsite would serve as a place for cultural exchange, member Maoki Sato said.
The group made repeated requests, but the city finally rejected the idea in March, citing concerns about possible “public disorder.”
The group had to quickly change its plan to secure cheap accommodations, so it asked Kanto-area residents to let foreigners stay at their houses. About 10 families are expected to be hosts.
The group, along with other nongovernmental organizations, opened an information booth at the Shin-Yokohama Ekimae Park, a five-minute walk from JR Shin-Yokohama Station. Information about the home-stay program will be available there, as well as on the group’s Web site at www.yokohamacamp.org.
Like many other volunteers, Sato is disappointed that the city has not prepared any place where people can view the games live on TV without having to apply in advance.
“The administration lacks hospitality and is too afraid of possible public disorder,” he said.
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