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The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry plans to review the highly competitive certification exams for professional foreign-language guides in a bid to boost the number of certified guides available to tourists, officials said Saturday.

The total number of licensed foreign-language guides totaled 9,051 at the end of 2003. In fiscal 2003, only 331, or 5.3 percent, of 6,300 applicants passed the licensing exams administered by the ministry.

The ministry, which oversees the tourism industry, plans to submit legislation to amend the law regulating certified guides to the Diet this session and put the legislation into force in April 2006, according to the officials.

The government hopes to double the annual number of foreign tourists to 10 million by 2010. The ministry believes it is necessary to amend the interpreter guide law to achieve the goal.

To maintain the overall quality of professional guides, the ministry plans to clarify the role of the Japan Guide Association and similar groups, and toughen penalties on unauthorized guides.

The ministry also plans to submit a bill that would allow prefectural governments to create their own systems to certify guides specializing in their localities.

The ministry hopes to simplify the exam by offering tests that deal with more general subjects.

It also plans to waive part of the exam for applicants who have passed the first level in a test administered by the Society for Testing English Proficiency, or hold similar qualification exams of its own.

As part of efforts to ease existing regulations for professional guides, the ministry plans to replace the licensing system with a registration system.

The ministry plans to raise the maximum penalty on uncertified guides by 10-fold to 300,000 yen. It also plans to slap a fine of up to 100,000 yen on violators of a requirement that guides show proof of registration to tourists in advance.

The ministry plans to ban professional guides from engaging in acts that would “hurt the credibility and integrity of guides,” including promoting unsolicited shopping and taking tourists to adult entertainment outlets.

Record tourist level

The estimated number of foreign tourists coming to Japan hit a record 6.14 million in 2004, topping the 6 million mark for the first time, while the number of Japanese heading overseas stood at 16.83 million, the second highest total ever.

The transport ministry attributed the rise in foreign visitors to relaxation of immigration controls mainly for group tours by students from China and South Korea, an upturn in the number of tourists from the United States and Europe who avoided traveling to other Asian countries due to the SARS epidemic, and the opening of new air routes to China and Taiwan.

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