KYOTO — Kansai needs to wake up and exploit its economic potential as an attractive tourist destination and center for industrial innovation, local business leaders said Thursday.

One session at the 41st annual Kansai Economic Summit was devoted to the issue of turning the Kansai region in general — and Osaka in particular — into a tourist and convention center.

About 460 people are attending the two-day summit, including local business, financial, academic, and government leaders, as well as members of the international business and diplomatic communities.

On Osaka’s desire to become a major tourist and convention destination, panelist Tsutomu Okuda, president of the Daimaru Inc. department store chain, said that realizing this goal would be difficult due to the city’s negative image among many Japanese.

“Not too long ago, Daimaru did a survey in Sapporo, where we asked people how they felt about Kansai as a tourist destination,” remarked Okuda, whose brother, Hiroshi, is the chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren). “While many people had good images of Kyoto and Kobe, their image of Osaka was that it was a dirty, crime-ridden city where people’s public manners are bad.”

Okuda will become the head of the Kansai Association of Corporate Executives in May.

Osaka’s large number of homeless people, officially estimated by the city at 10,000 and unofficially estimated by volunteer groups at nearly 15,000, was also cited by several panelists a major problem in attracting tourists.

Lee Yong Sook, president of Rinkai Travel Co., said that Korean visitors are often shocked at the homeless ranks that dominate some popular tourist destinations.

“Osaka Castle Park is one of the few places in the city that foreign tourists really want to visit,” she said. “Yet, when they go there, what do they see? Rows of blue tents and cardboard boxes where hundreds of homeless people live.”

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