Volunteer guides kick off project to help tourists in Tokyo

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

There’s help at last for those lost-looking foreigners wandering around Tokyo’s most popular tourism destinations.

Teams of volunteer guides on Friday kicked off a campaign to approach confused visitors in Shinjuku and Ueno to see if they can help them out.

The 40 or so multilingual volunteers will roam the two districts from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays wearing blue uniforms printed with the slogan “Omotenashi Tokyo,” invoking the Japanese word for hospitality.

“Tokyo expects a further surge in tourists as the Olympics near,” Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said at the project’s launch Friday. “Nothing will be more helpful for them than being spoken to in their own languages. We would like to display such a spirit of hospitality,” he said.

Most of the guides are proficient in English, and some can speak languages such as Chinese and Korean. They will approach visitors who look like they could use assistance and offer directions and other information using tablet computers or guidebooks.

“Welcome to Japan!” said one guide, Norio Hasegawa, as he approached some foreigners on the streets of Shinjuku on Friday.

Now retired, Hasegawa, 61, told a reporter he fondly remembers the way he was treated with hospitality during a business trip overseas, and wanted to repay that kindness by participating in this project.

One of the people he helped Friday was a Chinese tourist. Hasegawa showed the man how to navigate the Go Tokyo tourist information website, which is run by the metropolitan government, on his tablet PC.

The multilingual website provides an array of traveling tips pertaining to transportation, accommodation, Wi-Fi hot spots and eateries.

After gauging demand, the guide project will be expanded to cover other neighborhoods that foreigners tend to visit, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said.