• Kyodo

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Eight of the nation’s 32 national parks have been selected by an Environment Ministry panel for a pilot project aimed at attracting more foreign tourists to sites of natural beauty.

As part of the project, the ministry will request additional funds for the parks in a second supplementary budget this fall, or the budget for fiscal 2017 starting in April.

To improve infrastructure and services at the selected locations, the panel says the government should loosen zoning regulations in areas around the parks to encourage private investment in hotels and other facilities, as well as offer better training for tour guides.

Local authorities will also be encouraged to develop new attractions featuring nature and traditional culture.

Among the eight picked is Ise-Shima National Park in Mie Prefecture where Ise Shrine is located, and which was the venue of the Group of Seven summit in May.

The other locations are Nikko National Park, which straddles Fukushima, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures, Daisetsuzan and Akan national parks in Hokkaido, Kirishima-Kinkowan and Aso-Kuju national parks in Kyushu, Towada-Hachimantai National Park in northern Tohoku, and Keramashoto (Kerema Islands) National Park in Okinawa Prefecture.

The deciding factors in choosing the parks included their proximity to other sightseeing spots and areas of natural beauty that would attract foreign tourists and efforts by the local governments to improve conditions around the locations.

The number of foreign visitors to national parks in Japan in 2015 stood at 4.3 million people. The ministry aims to boost that figure to 10 million.

The project is part of the effort to boost the annual number of foreign tourists to 40 million in 2020, one of the pillars of the government’s economic growth strategy.

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