Revamp planned for ultra-rigorous tour guide exam


The Japan Tourism Agency is planning to revamp a government exam for tour guides serving foreigners, following criticism that the current test contains some questions that are either too difficult or irrelevant to the job.

As few as 10 percent of candidates pass the test.

The agency now plans to hold an exam that focuses more on practical knowledge and communications skills as the nation braces for an influx of foreign visitors ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Individuals seeking paid work as a “tour guide-interpreter” for foreigners currently have to pass a written exam covering several disciplines, including one foreign language, geography and Japanese history, as well as general knowledge about the economy and politics.

They also have to pass a short oral test.

The agency has faced criticism that some questions are way off topic. One question in the fiscal 2014 examination was: “How did the Nikkei stock average’s closing price at the final session of the year 2013 change from 2012?”

The agency mainly uses information from school textbooks to test individuals’ general knowledge, but it said it plans from next fiscal year to include current events as reported in newspapers or the content of the white paper on tourism.

The agency will place more emphasis on individuals’ ability to translate Japanese into a foreign language, rather than the other way round. It will also lengthen the oral test by two minutes to a total of 10 minutes, agency officials said.

“We have to respond to various needs, as foreigners are interested in a wide range of issues from culture and tradition to the pop scene,” an official said.

The examination pass rate has been roughly between 10 percent and 30 percent in recent years. Anyone can take the examination, regardless of age and nationality.

Around 17,000 people nationwide have acquired certification to serve as an officially recognized “tour guide-interpreter,” but only 25 percent of them are currently working in the business, apparently because it pays too little.

Although most examinees take the foreign language test in English, they can choose French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Korean or Thai.