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MAEBASHI, Gunma Pref. (Kyodo) A growing number of local governments are handing out discount cards for goods and services to families with children to promote the creation of family-friendly communities.

But since the plan depends on the shops’ goodwill to shoulder the amount of the discount, the number of participating stores is growing at a snail’s pace.

According to the Cabinet Office, 40 of Japan’s 47 prefectures offer support programs.

When a discount card is presented to a cooperating store, goods or drinks are marked down, and at financial institutions, a preferential interest rate is given.

The Gunma Prefectural Government began distributing the “Gunma choitoku (a little bit beneficial) kids’ passport” in November 2007. About 200,000 such cards have been issued, and the number of cooperating stores now totals 2,200.

The city of Ota in southeastern Gunma Prefecture and the city of Ashikaga in southwestern Tochigi Prefecture are situated closely, and their residents can cross the prefectural border for shopping, drinking and eating using the discount cards. But if the cards can be used only in one prefecture, they have fewer benefits.

Therefore, Tochigi Gov. Tomikazu Fukuda proposed in July last year at a meeting with governors from Gunma, Ibaraki, Fukushima and Niigata prefectures that they cooperate to promote the discount cards.

Officials in charge at four prefectural governments, except Niigata which is not implementing the scheme, met in January to iron out their differences over distribution conditions for their cards, such as including families with children under junior high school age or families with children aged younger than 18.

A 24-year-old housewife in Ashikaga said, “As I often go to Gunma for shopping, I would like to use the card there in the future. I am pleased to see that services supporting family-rearing are spreading.”

Such borderless services are already available in seven prefectures in Kyushu and all prefectures in Shikoku. But in Fukuoka Prefecture, cooperating stores number about 7,300, short of the prefectural government’s target of 10,000 by fiscal 2009.

Some stores are rallying behind the scheme, saying their image will improve among the public, but others are reluctant to take part in it because they have to shoulder the amount of discount.

But the scheme has a long way to go in many prefectures. According to a survey by the Cabinet Office, only 4 percent of residents of Fukuoka Prefecture know about the system, but in Ishikawa Prefecture, about 95 percent are aware of it.

An official at a foundation entrusted with the scheme by the Fukuoka Prefectural Government said, “We would like to continue to ask stores for cooperation to reach the target. We will have to make the scheme thoroughly known among families with children.”

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