Former Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme participants (JET program) could be tapped to improve English-language information at cultural landmarks under a proposal being considered by the Cultural Affairs Agency.
Enlisting the help of former JET program alumni will be mentioned in a report on how to improve English-language signs, fliers and other information for cultural assets such as temples and shrines, the agency said Tuesday.
The report will be released at the end of this month, said Miyuki Tajima, an official with the agency. She noted that municipal governments will be encouraged to find ways to make such facilities more user-friendly for foreign visitors.
The agency, together with the Japan Tourism Agency, convened a panel of experts on the subject from last October through February, where it was discussed how best to improve the foreign-language information available at popular tourist destinations featuring cultural properties.
At one of the sessions, the panel invited a tourism bureau official from the city of Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, which recently hired an ex-JET teacher from Canada to advise on English-language signs on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes. Kumano Kodo, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2004, is popular with overseas visitors.
The former JET participant was tapped for the job because he was well versed in the culture and history of Kumano, having worked as an assistant language teacher in the city for three years, the official told the panel.
Prior to his employment, English information in the area was confusing for tourists. For example, there was no unified English spelling of the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine, which was spelled 19 different ways.
The city, with the help of the JET teacher, streamlined the signs and now has pamphlets available in six languages, including French, Korean, Spanish and Chinese.
Tajima of the Cultural Affairs Agency noted that while it is primarily up to the individual owners of cultural properties and local governments to prepare foreign-language information, the central government offers subsidies to assist them.
The agency has ¥30 million set aside for the current fiscal year for pilot programs to publish foreign-language materials for tourists and train multilingual tour guides. For its part, JTA also provides ¥340 million in subsidies to local government and private-sector marketers who promote foreign tourism.
Established in 1987, the JET program has accepted a total of 62,000 people, mostly from English-speaking countries, to teach at schools and engage in local-level cultural exchanges.
The government is promoting tourism as a key industry through which it hopes to achieve its ¥600 trillion GDP goal. It has already decided to create 200 primary tourism spots, including cultural properties, by fiscal 2020.
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