• Kyodo

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An information technology company in Sapporo has come up with a system to help foreign visitors enjoy their stay in food-rich Hokkaido without being hampered by language barriers.

Developed by Sekai Menu Inc., the smartphone-based service aims to connect restaurants with foreign customers. The Sekai Menu (menu for all) system enables customers to display menus in designated languages when they hold their smartphones over Quick Response codes on restaurant tables, and place orders directly from their devices.

The service also offers survival translations such as “where can I wash my hands?”

“I want foreign visitors to enjoy food in Hokkaido without language barriers,” said Nobuyasu Fukunishi, 38, president of Sekai Menu and the architect of the system. “As there are many good restaurants in Hokkaido, choices shouldn’t be narrowed because of language problems.”

After closing a Japanese-style bar in Susukino, a popular entertainment district in Sapporo, 15 years ago for health reasons, Fukunishi developed an interest in computer programming and studied information technology.

He then started thinking about creating a program to help restaurants attract more customers and increase profits. He developed the Sekai Menu system in 2013.

The service now covers 30 languages including English, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Tagalog. Around 20 restaurants in Sapporo and Otaru have adopted the system, according to the company.

With the number of foreign visitors expected to increase ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Fukunishi has geared up marketing efforts to sell the system outside Hokkaido, leading to its introduction at restaurants in Tokyo and Okinawa.

While Tokyo is seen as Japan’s information technology center, “I want to develop an IT industry in Hokkaido that can grab global attention,” Fukunishi said.

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